A nationwide poll has found strong support for the importance of families having dinner together on a regular basis, but
making that time is much more difficult to do, especially for lower socio-economic families.
In an independent poll
of 1,000 New Zealanders undertaken by Curia Market Research and commissioned by Family First NZ, 88% of respondents
said that dinners together on a regular basis are important, with two out of three (67%) saying they were ‘very
important’. In a significant gender split, 80% of women said they were very important but only 55% of men. Families in
low socio-economic areas also placed less emphasis on the importance of the regular meal together.
Families with children were overwhelmingly in support, with 98% of respondents in these households convinced of their
importance. Green party voters were the most convinced of the importance of family dinners followed by NZ First voters.
However, when respondents were asked how often they were actually sitting down together for dinner, only 56% said they
have dinner together at least five nights a week (5-7 nights). 10% were meeting six nights per week, and 29% were having
dinner together every night of the week. 21% of the respondents were sitting down together only three nights or less.
Families in high deprivation areas weren’t sitting down for dinner together very often. And despite the importance that
families with children placed on dinners together, only 28% were eating together every night, with a further 39%
managing 5-6 nights per week (2/3rds total of ‘partner and kids’ households at least five nights per week).
Research recently published by Oxford University[i]
found that parents of younger children eat with their family members more frequently than parents of teenagers, but
that parents in lower-income families often lack time and energy to prepare food or arrange a meal together with others,
and that this has been linked with a less healthy diet. Shift work can also eat into family time. The study says that “Single parents, a notoriously time-poor category, spend the least amount of time eating with their families and have
fewer commensal meals.”
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has surveyed thousands of American teens and
their parents for almost two decades[ii]
and say; “Our surveys have consistently found a relationship between children having frequent dinners with their parents and a
decreased risk of their smoking, drinking or using other drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner
table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children.” Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week), those who have infrequent family dinners
(fewer than three per week) are: almost four times likelier to use tobacco; more than twice as likely to use alcohol;
two-and-a-half times likelier to use marijuana; and almost four times likelier to say they expect to try drugs in the
future. Teens themselves say that talking, sharing, catching up, and interacting with family members is the best part of
Family First is running a campaign of promoting family dinners, including large billboards around the country, and an
upcoming research paper summarising studies from New Zealand and around the world on the issue.
Get the whole family to the dinner table:
• Make shared family meals a priority
• Make family meals fun, including all family members of all ages in the preparation and discussion time
• Eliminate distractions like TV and phones
• Create an environment that leads to healthy communication
• Make dinner not about the food, but about the family, and time together
The nationwide poll was carried out during December and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.