A photographer captured shots of Americans eating dinner for 3 years, and the photos show how different family meal time looks in busy homes across the US

Wednesday: Emilio, Rhonda, Benedetto, Skylrae, and Jacomo. Cudahy, Wisconsin

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Wednesday: Emilio, Rhonda, Benedetto, Skylrae, and Jacomo. Cudahy, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

  • What family meal time looks like in each individual household can vary greatly.
  • It’s something photographer Lois Bielefeld wanted to explore in her series “Weeknight Dinners.”
  • She visited more than 80 households across the Midwest and the South to capture how, what, when, and where people spend dinnertime with their families.
  • Take a look at her series.

Studies have repeatedly shown the benefits of having a set family meal time every day.

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Monday: Zoe, Dave, Emma, and Karen. 2013, Mequon, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Source: Journal of Adolescent Health


Research has shown that the benefits are especially pronounced in children.

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Wednesday: Melissa and Ava. 2017, Burlington, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Source: The Washington Post


Those who regularly eat a daily meal with their families often show higher achievement scores and are generally more physically fit.

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Thursday: Brody and Sara. 2015, Random Lake, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Source: The Washington Post


But what family meal time looks like in each household can vary greatly, which is something photographer Lois Bielefeld wanted to explore in her series “Weeknight Dinners.”

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Wednesday: Siena, Brian, Alivia, and Leah. 2013, Wilwaukee, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Bielefeld, who’s represented by Portrait Society Gallery, visited 86 households to see how families are sitting down for dinner every night.

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Wednesday: Natalia and Maryann. 2014, Austin, Texas
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Lois Bielefeld

Focusing on weeknights, when people usually have less free time, she found that there were some major differences in how families spent the meal together.

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Thursday: Zora, Hannah, Jenny, Allison, Tau, and Nova. 2017, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

For “Weeknight Dinners,” Bielefeld wanted to explore people’s habits and nightly rituals.

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Wednesday: Kathy. 2013, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

“I love to see the similarities and differences in people with a topic that has commonality — we all eat,” she told Business Insider.

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Monday: Rina and Giuseppe. 2013, Oak Creek, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

As a child, Bielefeld was highly involved in her family meals.

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Wednesday: Bruce, Heather and Wyatt. 2013, Foxpoint, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

“I’ve always loved food,” she told Business Insider.

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Tuesday: Cheri and Allen. 2015, Cedarburg, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

“One of my chores growing up was to make a weekend meal for the family,” she said. “I could make whatever I wanted, but I needed to follow a recipe.”

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Monday: Joel and Florence. 2013, Cedarburg, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

She photographed this project specifically on Monday through Thursday nights.

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Monday: Steven and Jomo. 2013, Manhattan, New York
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Lois Bielefeld

“I wanted to capture habits and rituals that are shaped by the weeknight time crunch rather than the weekends, when people have more time,” she said.

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Thursday: Lon and Todd. 2017, Lodi, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Those weeknight rituals varied with every family Bielefeld photographed.

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Tuesday: Roger and Madeleine. 2015, Monticello, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

One father and son duo regularly ate Subway before making their way to their weekly scout meetings on Tuesdays.

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Tuesday: Alden and Alan. 2014, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Lois Bielefeld

Other families hold hands, give thanks, or take turns sharing what they’d learned that day.

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Thursday: David and Cathy. 2013, Waukesha, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

One thing that Bielefeld found out early on in the project was that people ate in many different places in their homes.

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Wednesday: Brandy and John. 2013, South Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

“The archetype or projected ideal associated with dinner is families eating at the table — everyone eats at the same time, and eats the same food,” she said. “This was rarely the case during my portraits.”

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Monday: Nuco. 2014, Arlington, Illinois
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Lois Bielefeld

From picnicking on the floor to standing upright at the counter while reading the paper, she found no two households were alike.

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Wednesday: Glynis, Liam, Jorin, and Mona. 2013, Muskego, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

She estimated about one in five of her subjects ate dinner in front of the television.

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Wednesday: Joe. 2017, Burlington, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

“When the TV was on the focal point was definitely the TV as opposed to each other, but there was still this idea of being together and doing something collectively,” she said.

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Tuesday: Juanita and John. 2014, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Lois Bielefeld

Another observation Bielefeld made was that in many households, different family members would eat different things.

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Monday: Sálongo and Daphne. 2014, Natchez, Mississippi
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Lois Bielefeld

Bielefeld said some people stuck with recipes while others liked to wing it while cooking.

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Tuesday: John and Janet. 2013, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Others ate pre-packaged foods from stores like Trader Joe’s or picked up take-out.

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Thursday: Bob, Franki, and Joe. 2014, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Bielefeld said what people chose to eat depended on everyone’s busy schedules.

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Wednesday: Willie Mae. 2013, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

“Weeknights provide small bits of respite, and not everyone wants to take that brief time to cook, nor does everyone like to cook,” Bielefeld said.

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Thursday: Susie and Laura. 2017, Shorewood, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

She said the differing age groups also influenced how people eat.

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Monday: Jan, Judy, and Gail. 2014, Holy Hill, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Bielefeld said dinner amongst families with kids were often catered to the young ones and their busy school and sports activity-filled schedules.

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Tuesday: Alex, Sophia, Kathy, David, Claudia, Eva, and Ana. 2015, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Bielefeld said some younger subjects mentioned that eating out was more of the norm than was cooking at home.

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Wednesday: DannO and Amelia. 2013, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

The meal service Blue Apron, which delivers food to you that requires little prep time, was also popular with the younger people she photographed.

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Wednesday: Colin and Makeal. 2014, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

But older subjects valued something specific about dinnertime. “The baby boomers and older people spoke very nostalgically about meal time and how important it was to eat at the table together,” Bielefeld said.

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Thursday: Frances and Joan. 2015, Belgium, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Luckily for Bielefeld, most people she approached about the project were open to the idea of participating.

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Wednesday: Summer. 2014, Beaumont, Texas
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Lois Bielefeld

“Often when I begin a new photo series, I reach out to people I know and sometimes whom I’ve photographed before,” she said.

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Wednesday: Hiawa, Delilah and Abraham. 2014, Austin, Texas
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Lois Bielefeld

“As a project progresses I start photographing strangers whom I reach out to in a variety of ways,” she said.

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Monday: Ryan. 2017, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

She’d set up lights in the home to help illuminate the scene, and ask the subjects to wait before eating so that she could take their picture.

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Wednesday: Leo and Michael. 2014, Austin, Texas
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Lois Bielefeld

“Often it was really difficult for the kids to fathom not being able to eat when the food was put before them,” she said.

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Tuesday: Seynabou, Rui James and Marie. 2014, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Lois Bielefeld

“Even with the whole camera and lights set up it was still almost beyond them that they had to wait to eat,” she said. “It was quite humorous.”

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Thursday: Lucca, Todd, Katie, and Scout. 2017, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Occasionally, her subjects would ask her to join her for dinner after she was done shooting.

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Wednesday: Ernesto. 2014, Fox Point, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

She said that almost every family she photographed in the South asked her to have a seat at the table for dinner.

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Monday: JoAlice. 2014, Arlington, Illinois
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Lois Bielefeld

“I don’t know if this was basic Southern hospitality or if they knew I was traveling and it was a nice way to extend a piece of home to me while on the road,” Bielefeld said. “But I definitely noticed this shift.”

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Monday: Dennis and Denise. 2015, Belgium, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

As a photographer, Bielefeld’s main focus is to keep exploring the human psyche.

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Wednesday: Emilio, Rhonda, Benedetto, Skylrae, Jacomo. 2014, Cudahy, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

“As I keep photographing people, I learn that people are incredibly complex and there is a sea of differences and similarities between people and their behavior,” Bielefeld said.

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Wednesday: Irena and Steve. 2013, Mequon, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

“I’m really interested in behavior and why people do what they do,” Bielefeld said. “But it’s never as simple as one cause or reason.”

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Thursday: Walentina. 2013, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin
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Lois Bielefeld

Sarah Jacobs contributed to an earlier version of this article.