Expanding the Circle of Those Benefitting from Family Meals

September 23, 2022

Sep 23, 2022

By David Fikes, Executive Director, FMI Foundation

A quick review of popular inspirational quotes about family reveals a healthy assortment suggesting a definition of family that exceeds the bonds of blood kinship.  Check these out:

  • Friends are just family chosen by you.
  • Blood does not make a family. Love does.
  • Friends are the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of your family.
  • A clan is a perfect mix of family and friends that make you a better person.

In their own way, each of these suggest that family is not limited to those related to you by marriage, birth, or adoption but can include a brace of extended others who care for you, offer support to you, and with whom you feel a familial connection.

As part of the Foundation’s ongoing research about family meals before and during the different phases of the pandemic, we asked over 1,000 people the question, “How do you define family?” 

Just over half said their definition of family included their significant other, 44% defined family as the Adults who are in my family, 34% reported that for them, family meant my children, over 1/5 (21%) said their circle of family included their pets, and 16% reported that they defined family as Adults who are not my significant other or family.

While there remains a strong sense of blood kin in how we currently conceive of family, Foundation research substantiates the ways people are expanding their family circle. This becomes more important as the physical, mental, and societal health benefits of family meals get incontrovertibly documented.  A large swarth of our society simply does not demographically fit within a concept of family based on 50’s and 60’s TV shows.  So if we want a society that is more physically fit, mentally stronger, and socially connected, we must include those who define family more expansively. This means being more sensitive to the fact that not everyone defines family the same way when we talk about family meals and visualize them.  And when we address ways to make it easier for our customers to have family meals, our convenience measures must not just include the soccer mom overcoming the challenges of multiple household schedules, but also encompass those who conceive of family as “framily,” and make it easier for them to pull off more frequent gatherings of their connected familiars. 

The pandemic drove deeper family connections with 56% of Americans saying they feel more connected than they did a year ago.  However, at the risk of repeating myself, we should also take careful note of another trend coming out of the pandemic.  When asked if their definition of family – when it comes to family meals – had changed in the past year, 42% acknowledged that it had, with 18% concurring strongly and 24% declaring it had somewhat.  Another 38% neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement.

Those numbers suggest an expanded target audience for family meals and a more expansive understanding of family.