Context: The proportion of children eating dinner with their families declines with age and has decreased over time. Few data exist concerning the nutritional effect of eating family dinner.
Objective: To examine the associations between frequency of eating dinner with family and measures of diet quality.
Setting: A national convenience sample.
Participants: There were 8677 girls and 7525 boys in the study, aged 9 to 14 years, who were children of the participants in the ongoing Nurses' Health Study II.
Main outcome measures: We collected data from a self-administered mailed survey, including food and nutrient intakes from a validated semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire. Main outcome measures included servings per day of selected foods and food groups, daily intakes of selected macronutrients and micronutrients, and frequency of multivitamin use.
Results: Approximately 17% of participants ate dinner with members of their family never or some days, 40% on most days, and 43% every day. More than half of the 9-year-olds ate family dinner every day, whereas only about one third of 14-year-olds did so. In age- and sex-adjusted logistic regression models, the odds ratios associated with a frequency of family dinner of most days compared with never or some days, or every day compared with most days, were as follows: for eating at least 5 servings per day of fruits and vegetables, 1.45 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.37-1.53); for eating any fried foods away from home, 0.67 (95% CI, 0.64-0.70); and for drinking any soda, 0.73 (95% CI, 0.66-0.80). Multiple linear regression showed that an increased frequency of family dinner was also associated with substantially higher intake of several nutrients, including fiber, calcium, folate, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C, and E; lower glycemic load; and lower intake of saturated and trans fat as a percentage of energy. We observed little or no effect on intakes of whole dairy products, red meat, or snack foods. Patterns were similar for boys and girls.
Conclusions: Eating family dinner was associated with healthful dietary intake patterns, including more fruits and vegetables, less fried food and soda, less saturated and trans fat, lower glycemic load, more fiber and micronutrients from food, and no material differences in red meat or snack foods.