Parenting and Family Dinner: No One Size Fits All
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Parenting and Family Dinner: No One Size Fits All

Conflicting family styles and parenting techniques set the tone for diverse dinner routines.

Part three of a 6-part series exploring Tyson Foods’ consumer research findings on the emotional significance of family dinners.

Parenting style has a big impact on how children develop into adults, but it also influences—to some degree, family purchasing patterns. As a result, food marketers must work hard to understand consumer behavior to effectively craft their marketing messages.

Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., and Syntegrate Consulting, a New York City-based strategic consulting firm, recently applied a research methodology based on “storytelling” to evoke parents’ and children’s non-conscious emotional truths related to family dinner.

The facilitated storytelling process required participants with close connections to share stories with each other about past family dinner experiences. In the end, the process revealed three distinct family types, largely defined by varying parenting styles. Understanding these families and the emotional triggers that actuate their behavior can provide retailers and food marketers with different avenues to promote family mealtime with prepared foods.

“What we know now is that what really drives moms’ and dads’ choices about making dinner is something emotional. It’s emotional truths—the emotional benefits of sitting around the dinner table,” explained Christopher Brace, founder and CEO of Syntegrate Consulting.

Tyson Foods’ research on “The Emotional Experience of Family Dinners” identified Micro-Intentionals, Macro-Intentionals and Present but Passives as three main family types.

Micro-Intentional parents have a clear idea about how they want to raise their children and are proactive and deliberate about bringing their plans to life. Macro-Intentionals’ style of parenting is also deliberate, however the parents are more removed, preferring to let their children experience life for themselves with some guidance. Present but Passive parents, in contrast, do not have a clear objective and are very passive about raising their children.

Of the three family types, Tyson Foods’ research noted that Micro-Intentionals share family dinners more often than other families—on average four to five times a week or more—because they make those dinners a priority and are purposeful about having them.

“The idea that a strong family unit starts at the dinner table makes perfect sense to Micro-Intentional parents,” Tyson Foods’ study observed. “In fact, they recognize that dinner is the only time of day when both parents and kids are in the same place at the same time, so it gives them a chance to catch up and learn about each other.”

Macro-Intentional parents, meanwhile, are just as knowledgeable about parenting as Micro-Intentionals but their style is more laid back and removed. As a result, Macro-Intentionals do not necessarily eat dinner together as often as Micro-Intentionals—averaging three to four family dinners a week—and many Macro-Intentional families have the TV on during dinner even when no one is watching it.

Present but Passive families consist of parents who are physically present in the lives of their children but are not very involved. There is no real pattern found with Present but Passives in terms of dinnertime behavior. It runs the gamut from eating together most nights to almost never sitting around the table.

While Micro-Intentionals, Macro-Intentionals and Present but Passives behave very differently, they all seem to recognize the benefits of family dinners, such as getting siblings to interact, allowing parents and kids to learn about each other and building a strong foundation to prepare kids to go out into the world on their own.

“The benefits of family dinnertime are plentiful and fairly consistent across all three family types,” Tyson Foods’ research found.

Opportunities to increase the number of times families purchase takeout from the prepared foods department may be slightly greater with Present but Passives, however, because they bring takeout into their homes most often.


  • Micro-Intentionals actively work to create moments in which the family spends quality time together.
  • Macro-Intentionals get everyone together whenever possible but do not force the issue.
  • Present but Passives just let quality time happen.



  • A hands-on approach to parenting
  • Teachable moments, lots of discussion, lots of guidance
  • Actively keeps up-to-date on kids’ lives
  • Discussed parenting before having kids and continues to discuss parenting style to maintain alignment


  • A mixed approach of hands-on and hands-off parenting (varies by situation)
  • More experiential learning followed by discussion rather than guidance or “lessons” before the fact
  • Discussed parenting before having kids but no longer need to discuss parenting style formally, as long as general agreement


  • A hands-off approach to parenting
  • Kids need to learn and find their way in the world but parents will intervene when necessary
  • Do not actively try and stay up to date on kids’ lives
  • Mainly react when made aware of serious situations
  • Did not formally discuss parenting before having kids and parenting styles are not aligned

Next month’s look at the emotional significance of family dinners will explore the impact of extracurriculars and busy family schedules on mealtime.