Digesting the Family Dinner Dynamic

Burger Lars

The ritual of eating together as a family has always been at risk from one thing or another. It’s not just smartphones and television that have been disrupting our meals together recently, our changing lifestyles and diets have a huge impact on meal times too. Between our children’s social obligations outside of school and our own demanding schedules, it can be tough getting everyone round the dinner table at the same time. Even mum and dad are struggling to find time to sit down with the family, with 73% of parents cooking for themselves and regularly eating alone.

Changing diets are a challenge too - diets of British families have become so varied that families are now worried about how they’re going to cater for everyone. A healthy and diverse diet is just as important as keeping the family dinner tradition alive. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), over the last 40 years, Brits have become more aware of how nutrition affects our health and wellbeing. Yet, are our varying dietary requirements causing undue stress? At Magnet, we’re looking at ways to help reduce the anxiety parents shouldn’t be feeling at home.

We asked 2,000 parents what they thought about changing attitudes to diets in recent decades, and a massive 71% of those surveyed stated that cooking different meals for different diets causes them to become stressed. It’s harder still when medically induced dietary requirements need to be considered, especially in children. So, it might not surprise you that one in four parents avoid having their children’s friends over for dinner due to their unique dietary needs.

This is all before we consider the sheer amount of different diets out there: there are vegetarians, lacto-vegetarians, free-from diets, fruitarians, flexitarians, Lacto-ovo-vegetarians, living food diet vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, pescatarian and there’s veganism.

There are also the trend diets to consider, especially for adults, with over 49% of adults citing lifestyle diets including; the Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, raw food and juice diets. Whilst these types of diets can often be difficult to keep up, the benefits of people becoming more health concious can only be a positive movement in the long term.

A spokesperson from Magnet Kitchens said:

“Over the last few years, the British diet has changed dramatically, and as a nation, we’ve become more aware of the role food plays in health and well-being. Now, there is a never-ending list of diets being followed in the UK; born out of both necessity due to medical conditions, and out of choice due to awareness of the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.

With this study, we wanted to look deeper into these changing diets to understand if meal times have evolved as a result for families and how that may affect social situations. Our findings suggest they have, especially when trying to cater to everyone’s different needs on a daily basis.

Magnets top tips for avoiding dinner time stress

A little more time spent planning

Fussy eating habits aside, catering for everyone is just a part of family life, a significant 62% of parents end up cooking different versions of the same meal in a week. Eating habits might change, but there are ways that we can prevent stress. Our survey shows that less than a tenth (9.8%) of parents spend more than an hour over a week planning meals that require specific dietary requirements. The hassle of cooking multiple meals can be prevented with a little foresight.

Make cooking fun again

For many of us, preparing and cooking after work can seem like a mammoth task. However, cooking shouldn’t have to be a chore. The kitchen should be the focal point in your family home, and getting the whole family involved may just achieve that. According to our survey, 90% of all parents do the cooking, but it may be a good idea to bring your children into the kitchen. It might get messy with the younger ones but making the kitchen a social space for social activity should make everyone happier[1]. Increasing the social time you spend together reinforces your familial bonds, the more time you can spend together – not just at the dinner table – will make your family life better for you and your children.[2]

Try something new

Catering for different dietary requirements can be a strain, and 41% of those parents in our survey didn’t want to cook separate meals. However, there’s no reason why you all can’t tuck into a vegetable moussaka or a gluten-free Thai green curry. You never know, you might find some new favourites! Special requirement diets don’t have to be boring. If anything, the limitations can refresh your approach to cooking. It’s important to note too that supermarkets are becoming more aware of the nation’s need for variety when it comes to diet and nutrition and many are now offering and developing ranges catered for all dietry requirements.

Variety is essential

Only 34% of parents cook more than four different meals per week, despite repetition or habit making dinner time much less rewarding. Simply taking a bit extra time each week to drift away from your usual family recipes, or to try new flavours, can really make family dinners more exciting.

Teach your children how to cook

It might be wishful thinking, but teaching your children the art of cooking will benefit them (and you) for years to come. With a bit of practice and a lot of patience, you’ll not only teach some valuable life skills, but you’ll be able to distribute tasks each mealtime so you can work as a team a few nights a week. A good way to get them interested in cooking is to let them pick a recipe they’re interested in and let them take ownership of it. 47% of parents didn’t know what to cook for their kids, so why not just ask them for some inspiration.

Utilise the freezer!

It’s always tricky to find the balance between variety and value for money. 36% said they wanted to keep costs down, and doing so against more diverse diets is troublesome. Frozen vegetables are a fantastic example of how to do it; substituting those fresh vegetables means you extend the shelf life and limit waste. They also maintain all their nutrients and flavour for much longer.

It may seem straightforward, but so many don’t make use of their freezer space. Making meals in bulk and then freezing portions for later saves time and money in the long run. Lasagne, curries, chilli, soup, wraps, desserts, almost anything can be saved and used later, either by simply defrosting or giving them a quick blast in the microwave. A quick google for “easy freezer meals” will give you a plethora of simple, flexible and great tasting meals that’ll make your life far less stressful.

Our dinnertime traditions have long been under pressure, but it’s up to us as parents to save them. Your kitchen should be the focal point of socialness in the household, get the whole family together, make it fun and don’t be worried about trying new styles and recipes.

Shake it up!



[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/spending-time-with-family-is-key-to-happiness-3xhrjwcb7q9

[2] http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/spending_quality_family_time_together_is_very_important