Table-time makes a difference

I would like to spend more time with my family at the table, can it also improve our well-being?

One of my favorite well-being related measures is the time spent with family eating breakfast, lunch or dinner. I call this “table-time” and it offers a peak into that cherished ritual that calls us all to close our laptops, put down the books, paint brushes and toys and spend undivided quality time eating together.

For the sake of my wife and three daughters, I have to suppress the dad in me who cunningly tries to extend our table-time whenever possible.

Table-time shares some similarities to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) calculations for the time spent eating and drinking across countries. Time spent eating and drinking factors into OECD’s personal care time metrics, which are a key component of their yearly well-being report (see How’s Life? 2020). If more time spent eating and drinking benefit individual well-being, can more time spent eating and drinking together as a family benefit household well-being too?

Figure 1 shows time spent eating and drinking across selected countries in 2015. At the top end of the scale are the French, who spend an average of 133 minutes a day eating and drinking compared to the 52 minutes spent by American’s at the low end of the scale.

So how does table-time in my family compare to these countries?

Lo and behold, as precious as this time is to me, there is definitely some room for increasing table-time in our house! Figure 2 shows the average time we have spent eating together over the past couple of years. Our lunch table-time inched higher in 2020 due to the pandemic and working-from-home. Overall, the rush to get the kids to school keeps breakfast table-time at a minimum and it is also interesting to observe how the onset of Autumn results in a few extra minutes together at the table. Over the past couple of years, we are averaging 72 minutes a day eating together.

With my family clocking in at roughly 70 minutes a day, we are more like the Americans and Canadians instead of the Italians where we live. Time to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to slow things down at the table!