Getting children out from behind their computers or away from the TV can be as much of a battle as getting them to eat their greens, and as a result, shared family mealtimes around the dinner table are fast becoming a thing of the past.
Nearly half of UK families sit in front of the TV to eat their evening meal, according to new research conducted by Wimpy Restaurants. Yet despite this, more than half of the parents surveyed actually wanted to spend more time eating together as a family at the dining table.
With experts claiming eating together as a family can be beneficial to the development of children's behaviour and social skills, should we be making more of an effort to eat as a family around the table?
"Yes," says Rachel, mum to two boys aged 11 and 15. "I always insist on sitting at the table to eat, ideally with the whole family together. It's important for children to learn good table manners early on, and if they're slumped on a sofa there's little chance that they'll learn any at all. We do on very rare occasions eat in front of the TV, but it is just an occasional treat."
But Allie, mum to boys aged 5 and 11 disagrees: "When you're rushing around in the week there is usually so much to do that it is impossible to sit down together as a family. It's not that I don't think it's important to have time together, I just don't necessarily think meal times are the only time to do it."
Parenting and child behavioural expert Eileen Hayes expressed surprise at the findings, saying she had 'underestimated' the large percentage of people who spend their mealtimes in front of the TV. She went on to claim that eating in this way reduces the opportunities for communication between family members, as well as having a knock on effect on good family relationships.
But can having the occasional meal in front of the TV really be so anti-social? Can it not in itself be an opportunity for family time and bonding?
Leanne, a child-minder and mum to Nathan, 3, thinks it can: "I don't mind TV dinners very occasionally. When I was a child we always sat at the dinner table as a family apart from Wednesday nights when it was fish & chips on our laps after swimming and Saturdays when we'd have a family buffet in front of the A-Team and The Muppet Show! When I let my son eat in front of the TV now he knows that it is a treat and that there are conditions attached – it has to be quality TV and he needs to sit up straight and eat nicely or it gets turned off!"
Eileen Hayes says that small changes to family's existing eating routines can make a big difference to family life, suggesting that a meal out is a good way to overcome the barriers to eating together. "Plus," she adds, "the household's chef can have the night off, everyone gets to choose their favourite dish, and most importantly, everyone gets the chance to concentrate on spending time together."
Do you agree?
Are shared mealtimes really such an important aspect of family life?
Or are there better ways for you to bond as a family?