The Atlantic

Serving Convenience Foods for Dinner Doesn't Save Time

But commercially prepared foods do seem to undermine the invaluable family meal.

But commercially prepared foods do seem to undermine the invaluable family meal.

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stevendepolo/Flickr

Between 2001 and 2004, a team of UCLA researchers tracked the lives of 32 dual-earning middle-class families living in Los Angeles. The study's findings appear in the book Fast-Forward Family, from which the following post is adapted.


Americans cling to the ideal of family commensality as an elixir for personal and societal ills (e.g., children's vulnerability to drugs, smoking, and obesity) and as de rigueur for kindling children's school success. Many parents regret that for pragmatic reasons they cannot routinely prepare and enjoy a meal together as a family. They cite busyness -- workplace obligations, children's extracurricular and school activities, and scheduling conflicts -- as occluding this opportunity. Yet the study reveals that the busy lives of family members outside the home are not the only culprit in the saga of the American family dinner. Even when all members of a family were at home, eating dinner together was a challenge in many households. Why?

Two less acknowledged reasons for why family dinners were a challenge for the families stand out: convenience foods filling refrigerators and cupboards supplied individualized snacks and meals for family members; and family dinnertime

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