Two women, a man, a girl and a boy, all smiling, are sitting at a table filled with food.

Why Aren’t Families Eating Together? Too Much Work

Two women, a man, a girl and a boy, all smiling, are sitting at a table filled with food.

Various societal pressures make family dinners like this less common but not entirely a thing of the past. (Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash)

Commentary, Various Authors

Editor’s Note: We asked a group of local teens to tell us about whether they prefer to eat alone or share mealtimes with others and why they think many families eat together less often. Some welcome the time to bond with loved ones. Others favor alone time or don’t want to risk the potential conflict and tension. Others still are kept apart by responsibilities such as their parents’ long working hours. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

I eat the majority of my meals with or around family and friends. I prefer eating with people who care about me and I care about. Even if we don’t talk, having that sense of familial bonding is of the utmost importance to me. When I’m with friends, I can talk with them with about just about anything. The difference between being in the presence of people while eating and being alone is night and day. I feel a sense of community eating surrounded by friends and family. I sometimes go out of my way to ensure I don’t eat alone.

I think families eat together less and less because more and more people are taking up responsibilities at home and at work. As economic troubles riddle this country, people are forced to work longer or more jobs. Parents’ schedules do not allow them to eat with their children. I think kids are losing a lot in that, because as soon as they are able to look after themselves, parents no longer spend as much time with them, and it doesn’t solely apply to eating with them. Families eating together is imperative for the development of kids. The only positive I see coming out of this situation is kids are made to be more independent, but that may fracture their relationship with their parents.

— Jose Perez, 17

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It really does matter who you eat with. If you eat at the same table with a person you absolutely hate and are disgusted by, it affects your mood and your appetite.

But whenever you eat with people you are happy and comfortable with, eating doesn’t seem as bad. The mood is lively, the conversation flows nicely, everyone is happy, and we get to relax for at least 20 minutes and not worry about classes.

Eating with people has its pros and cons. Your mood gets uplifted based on the people you’re with; you have the option to talk and catch up with friends and share the latest chisme [gossip], your concerns and latest problems. It can be too loud at times. If you’re prone to getting anxiety or panic attacks, then you’ll be prone to getting an anxiety or panic attack eating with people.

Eating alone also has its pros and cons as well. You’ll finally be able to be by yourself and gather your thoughts; you can work on any missing work undisturbed; and you have at least 20 minutes away from people, a break from socializing.

Eating alone or with people doesn’t affect me much. I enjoy both options, just that I get tired of having too much of the same for long periods of time.

— Graciela Hermosillo, 16

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I can spend quality time while eating with my family and friends. It’s better to eat with other people even if you can eat alone. When you do stuff together with family or friends you connect with them even more. Sometimes, families don’t eat together because the parents are working. Or there could be arguments while eating. Then, [it] just gets awkward, and people start leaving and eat on their own. Eating with people is a way for all of us to spend time with each other.

[In families with teens,] there’s less quality time together, and they might not talk much. I feel like the teens would rather eat alone or just don’t really like being with their families during any meal. Teens sometimes feel more comfortable eating alone because some might feel like they are going to get judged by how much they serve themselves or by how much they eat. There could be some positives to it like children focusing on themselves, or they get to know themselves better by being alone.

— Julissa Gonzalez, 16

Some families eat less together because of work. Some families are [so] occupied with work that they may miss eating with their family. With the family members returning from work, the others may have already eaten, so they have to eat alone. The family will lack connection because you will not be able to know what is going on with the person or if something is wrong. The only “positive” of this is the family will earn more money.

— Janet Madison, 16

I like to eat with my friends cause we are gay. My family are meanie weenies. Why would I want to eat with meanies that don’t understand me when I could eat with people that have more understanding? At my house, I don’t even have a dining room table, so we couldn’t even eat together if we wanted to.

Families don’t eat together because they don’t get along. Eating is a beautiful thing. You are fueling your body, and it should be enjoyable. If everyone around you makes you angry, you rush and act unsociable. Now since you had to eat with them, the whole family gossips about how fast you ate, how fat and ugly you are and how you didn’t say one word while eating, so they all think you are rude. You can’t say you don’t like them ’cause they will be even more petty, so you just suck it up until you’re 18 and avoid eating with them at all costs.

— Sasha Abigana, 16

I don’t typically eat during lunch. I usually am doing work for my AP classes, and I don’t have much time to myself. I think eating with people can make a meal more enjoyable and can boost your appetite. It doesn’t really matter whether [people] eat together too often. It’s just a matter of who you’re with, if you’re with anyone at all.

Technology plays a big part because instead of going to the table and eating with family, people will set their plates in front of a screen and eat by themselves. I think social activity is affected because when you’re at a table, you create conversation and that can help you be more social. [When you’re not,] it can distance you from your family. You won’t have as strong a bond as someone who eats with their family every day.

— Aaliyah Hanvey, 16

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I don’t think it matters who you eat with. My family is complicated. We sometimes eat together or alone. Regardless of where we eat, we still have that bond. I know for other people it is considered disrespectful to not eat with your family. But I think everyone should respect everyone’s decisions if they want to eat with the family or alone. Eating together doesn’t define the relationship you have with your family or others.

Some take it personally when you choose not to eat with them. They start to feel angry, sad or hurt because of someone’s absence from the dinner table. I think this causes some families to drift apart and not have the same bond they used to. There are some positives to families eating together less. You can have your own personal time eating and watching movies or being on your phone not having to worry about the other person at the table. I think it’s healthy to have some space from people and have your alone time once in a while.

— Alexandra Zarate, 17

I’m a person that eats my meals mostly alone because I get to feel and act the way I want since nobody would be in sight. Eating with family and friends makes me sick to my stomach. The reason why is when people eat with messy hands and mouths, sneeze, or talk while eating, the taste of the food prevents me from eating. I would lie and leave saying, I’m full, which I’m not. I enjoy eating alone while watching on my phone.

Families eat less together because everyone has their schedule. They eat alone due to jobs, school, or tasks. Other times can be from soreness or hatred. When the relationship isn’t connected, there’s no love. The positive is families can have life situations to handle, so eating less together would be necessary to take care of business.

— BDoor Alzabedi, 18

It does not matter who I eat with and how often we eat together. Why? Because I have always eaten in my room alone. If I were to eat in front of someone, I would eat weirdly because it makes me feel uncomfortable. I like to be in my room when I eat because I am free from judgment. I can eat without having to worry about my food in my mouth. Eating alone does not affect me. I actually enjoy it. It all comes down to how comfortable you are with these people and how these people make you feel. I personally wouldn’t eat in front of anyone because they will correct you on how you’re supposed to eat which makes me not want to eat.

I think families eat together less because of daily stress and lack of communication. I think the positive to this “problem” is independence. Not needing to always be with your family is a good thing. I have never enjoyed a family dinner. It is so awkward. No one talks because they are stuffing their face. It can be hard having a family dinner every day. To me, having a family dinner seems like a front, trying to fool your own family into believing they are a good family. Daily stress can also be a big factor in why families don’t eat anymore. I don’t eat with mine because my dad is working and my grandma is distant (food-wise). Also, it saves me time from arguing about what to watch while I eat.

— Marina Cook, 15

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Whenever I eat with my family all gathered together, it brings me joy. Eating with my family is nice. My mom cooks our favorite dish, and we enjoy our food and having conversations. Everyone is able to talk without being interrupted. That really makes me happy, and I cherish those moments forever.

Many families don’t eat together anymore because the kids are grown up and out of the house most dinners, either because they are working or out with other people instead of spending time with their family. Maybe they have problems with their family. I know because that’s how it is with my family. My brother doesn’t really eat with us as much as he used to because he is always out with friends and when he comes back, my mom gets mad, so he [would] rather just leave.

— Thanya Lopez Trujillo, 17

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