Barilla Probes Perception of Family Meal Time

As part of its ongoing commitment to bringing families together, Italian food company Barilla has joined with Family Circle magazine to examine the importance of quality meal time on parents and children.

The Barilla “Share the Table” survey found that when families sit down together for a meal, 82 percent of parents feel closer to their kids and 72 percent of kids feel closer to their parents.

“The survey took a close look at the characteristics that define a quality family dinner and showed that the benefits of eating together stand out most for families who are able to capitalize on their time together, even if that time is limited,” said William Doherty, director of the Citizen Professional Center at the University of Minnesota and a study contributor. “We learned that kids value the family dinner as much as adults do, and they actually appreciate their parents more when they take the time to share a meal. These findings tell us that something as simple as everyone sitting down together and talking about their day over a good meal can strengthen the bonds between parents and kids.”

The research demonstrates that there is a payoff, in the form of exceptional emotional and social benefits for both parents and kids. Furthermore, parents and children who share high quality meals together, regardless of how often they share those meals in some instances, are more likely to be happier and feel they possess specific positive emotional and social attributes.

Studies show the typical dinner cycle with preparation, cooking, eating and clean-up to be less than an hour, and this research shows the incredible benefits to be reaped from that relatively small time commitment. These results show the importance of the quality of meals, not just the frequency and composition of the meal experience.

Parents and kids agree that the key ingredients for a high-quality meal include laughter, relaxation, conversation and being together eating something everyone likes.

Other key findings:

- Family time is a top priority for both parents (88 percent) and kids (79 percent)
- Three-quarters of parents and 60 percent of kids wish they had more time to spend together
- 71 percent of parents say they feel more appreciated by their children when they take time to have dinner together and 70 percent of kids, in turn, actually appreciate their parents more when they take time to share a meal together
- Nearly two-thirds of kids notice that their parents are less stressed and more fun to be around when they have dinner together
- Eating dinner together at home ranked higher in importance than vacation did with 89 percent of parents and kids citing family time as extremely important
- 52 percent percent of parents and kids agree that it is easier to talk about their feelings over the dinner table than in other situations
- 62 percent of kids selected family dinners at home together over sports/team lessons, music/arts/dance and scouts/clubs as the best activity to help them with feelings of safety and security
- Kids report wanting to help with meal preparation (40 percent of kids and 53 percent of ’tweens) and wish their parents would let them help cook dinner more often

Based on several possible attributes, parents and kids in the survey defined a quality meal as one in which there was laughter, everyone in the family was present and part of the conversation, participants were relaxed and unhurried, and everyone liked the food. When survey results were broken down by quality, it was clear that parents and kids who had high-quality meals experienced greater benefits in other areas of their lives compared with families who shared lower-quality meals.

For example, parents who said they have high-quality dinners were significantly more likely than those who have low-quality dinners to report feelings of happiness (65 percent vs. 42 percent) and enjoyment (56/39) in their everyday lives. This finding held true regardless of meal frequency. When asked which activities would best help them feel more empowered and learn to cope with stress, kids overwhelmingly chose family dinners over other activities such as sports, music/arts/dance lessons, and scouts or other clubs.

The survey revealed that family time is a top priority for both parents and children, but for nearly half (47 percent), busy schedules are the culprit for not getting that mealtime connection. But even when families do get together for a meal, there are several barriers that can threaten a meal’s quality. Technology, particularly television, can be a major distraction, with one-third of parents (32 percent) and kids (33 percent) admitting to watching TV always or often during dinner.

"We know how hard it is to always get the whole family together for dinner, and it’s great to see that teens and ’tweens appreciate family time just as much as moms and dads,” said Linda Fears, Family Circle editor in chief. “We always tell our readers that the best way to make the most out of mealtime is to check technology at the door, engage each other, take time to relax and enjoy the food.”

To find out more about "Share the Table," visit

This survey was conducted online by Decipher Inc. between Aug. 5 and 12, 2010, with a sample recruited from a nationally representative panel.

Barilla, originally established in 1877 as a bread and pasta shop in Parma, Italy, ranks as one of today’s top Italian food groups. Barilla leads in the global pasta business, the pasta sauces business in continental Europe, the bakery products business in Italy and the crispbread business in Scandinavia.

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