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Family Meals Barometer Shows How Pandemic Has Changed Landscape

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The global pandemic fundamentally has changed many aspects of our lives – from work, to school, to shopping – and now even the way we eat, particularly family meals. The FMI Foundation has documented this shift with a research tracking tool called the “Staying Strong with Family Meals” Barometer.

This barometer is a recurring quantitative study with a nationally representative sample of consumers. This effort began in August 2020 and is being updated frequently with tracking data.

As the nation observes National Family Meals Month in September, this barometer shows how the global pandemic transformed the family meals landscape. For example, the latest data reveals that Americans are cooking more with their families and having more family meals. Specifically:
• 87 percent say they are cooking with their families the same amount or more than before the pandemic;
• 86 percent report they are having the same amount or more in-person family meals; and
• 75 percent say they are having the same amount or more virtual family meals.

Perhaps more significantly, the barometer also shows that when Americans no longer have to worry about the pandemic, they envision a different family meals routine. More than 45 percent plan to prepare and eat more meals with others at home.

“We have always intuitively sensed that family meals are good for us,” said David Fikes, executive director of the FMI Foundation. “But when COVID-19 turned our worlds upside down, we tangibly discovered the benefits of family meals. When we were six months into the crisis, our barometer revealed that Americans were using family meals to stay strong – physically and emotionally – during the global pandemic. It is encouraging to see, now a year-and-a-half later, that Americans plan to continue this positive practice when the world establishes a new normal.”  

This barometer also provides data that shows us how people are benefitting from family meals and why all should continue this healthy habit. For instance, nine out of 10 Americans express positive sentiments about the family meals experience.  They boast that family meals:
• Are a good way to spend time with people;
• Make me feel more connected;
• Are an important part of my household’s regular routine; and
• Are a high point of my day.

Beyond these positive sentiments, consumers are experiencing noticeable value. Of those having in-person family meals, 70 percent feel more connected. Of those reporting cooking together, 70 percent feel more connected.

This “connection” data has meaningful implications. In fact, the American Heart Association recently entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Foundation to advance a common interest in promoting family meals. This interest focuses on the relationship between family meals and the mind-heart-body connection, including benefits to both mental health and diet quality.

The AHA highlights this connection in this recent paper: Psychological Health, Well-Being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association | Circulation (ahajournals.org).

Established in 1996, the FMI Foundation seeks to ensure continued quality and efficiency in the food retailing system and is operated for charitable, educational and scientific purposes. To help support the role of food retailing, the FMI Foundation focuses on research, education and resources in the area of health and well-being, which includes food safety, nutrition and social responsibility considerations. For information regarding the FMI Foundation, visit www.fmifoundation.org.

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