What Shape is Your Family In?

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What Shape is Your Family In?


A Letter from the President and CEO

Leslie G. Sarasin
"Regardless of the lens you look through – economic, nutrition and health, societal benefit, educational – it is acknowledged that families committed to frequently eating together reap a kaleidoscope of rewards."

Advertisements for the Academy Award-nominated animated movie "The BoxTrolls" bear the byline, "Families come in all shapes and sizes...even rectangles." While intended to pique our interest in the relational charm of the box-bearing creatures in the film, the byline is also a vivid reminder that the family structure in America is shifting in size, framework and arrangement.

According to U.S. Census information, in 1970, 81 percent of the American households were considered a married couple home; by 2012, that number had dropped to 66 percent. Of those married couple households charted in 1970, 40 percent included children. Of the 2012 married couple households, only 20 percent included children, and that number is now speculated to have dropped into the teens. Households and families are becoming smaller, with the average number per household dropping from 3.1 in 1970 to 2.6 in 2012. While myriad observations could be made about the meaning of those stats, the reality is that the shape of the American family is changing. The number of single-parent households with children is growing; the number of unmarried couples with children is increasing, as is the number of single households. In short, the day of the exclusive target market for grocers being the 25- to 35-year-old Mom, because she was buying for herself, her spouse and their 2.5 children, is gone.

All that being said, the age of family certainly is not over. As the boxtrolls remind us, it is the shape of the family that is changing, not its importance. While they may look and feel different, the family unit remains the fundamental building block of our society and as such is more important than ever. But some of the venues at which important family bonding takes place are being tested.

As we all can attest, increasingly complex demands on each family member's schedule is mounting an assault on the very concept of the family's ability to sit down and share a meal together. We eat in shifts; we eat while in transit to the next event; and even if we eat at the same time, it can still end up happening in different places.

The benefits of families eating meals together at home are indisputable. Regardless of the lens you look through – economic, nutrition and health, societal benefit, educational – it is acknowledged that families committed to frequently eating together reap a kaleidoscope of rewards. Improved grades in school, improved behavior, improved health, and stronger values are just a few of the advantages that come to families committed to eating more meals together.

Moreover, meals prepared at home are more affordable and they provide wonderful opportunities to involve children in the most practical educational laboratory imaginable – engaging math, science, health awareness and life skills in very beneficial ways.

So, on one hand are the benefit and the desire; AND on the other, the reality of the clock, calendar and outside commitments. The tension between the two indicates that families need help and reinforcement to counter the temptation to forego the family meal. As a result, FMI encourages all its members to participate in the "FMI Family Meals" campaign which leads up to September, which has been designated as National Family Meals Month™. The promotion of family meals will be a focus of our industry's time together at FMI Connect in Chicago. The food retail family will come together to explore ways we can support one another in devising programs, incentives and encouragement that make it easier for our shoppers to commit to and actually achieve one more meal together as a family per week than their norm.

The idea is simple – regardless of the shape of your family, commit to having one more meal per week all together. But like the very concept of family itself, the idea may be simple – it's the execution that gets complicated. As food purveyors, we can make a difference. And we should. www.fmifamilymeals.com