The family meal, a ritual frozen in time; an Australian grounded theory study

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Family meals are recognized as an opportunity to promote the health of families. Popular discourse posits that changes to contemporary family life have made family meals harder to achieve and promotion of the 'traditional' family meal may be adding pressures to contemporary families. While research has been conducted on family meals over the last three decades, there is no explicit investigation of the experiences and practices of family meals over this time. Understanding the evolution of family meal practices across time is important for developing achievable expectations in relation to this ritual. Qualitative interviews were conducted with a diverse population of South Australian parents in the 1990s (n = 32) and with a separate population of parents in 2020 (n = 22) to gather their experiences of family meal practices. A comparative analysis, informed by grounded theory, was undertaken to identify similarities and differences in experiences across these two time periods. The results indicated stability in many family meal experiences across time, particularly in their value and significance in family life. Negotiations balancing time, cost, food preferences and responsibility persisted. The stability of family meal values and practices is important to consider when making recommendations, designing interventions and creating services targeting the family meal.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdaad124
Number of pages12
JournalHealth promotion international
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • family meal
  • food provision
  • food work
  • grounded theory
  • time comparison


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