Family meals: perceptions of benefits and challenges among parents of 8- to 10-year-old children

J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Apr;108(4):706-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.01.005.


The study purpose was to examine parental perceptions of the mealtime environment in families with school-aged children and identify strategies to improve the dietary quality of meals. Cross-sectional surveys were completed by a convenience sample of 107 parents (86% mothers, 14% fathers) of 8- to 10-year-old children who were recruited from afterschool child care programs/elementary schools. SAS (version 9.1) was used to produce descriptive frequencies of parental reports of positive and negative perceptions of mealtime. Parents reported frequent family meals; however, they indicated that family dinners were eaten at full-service restaurants, purchased from fast-food establishments, or picked up as takeout foods at least weekly (47.0%, 28.3%, and 23.8%, respectively). Conflicts about food were problematic for some families (40.2% on at least some days), and appeared to be related to children's food pickiness. Parents reported many benefits of family meals, including time for conversation, feelings of togetherness, shared nutrition, and ceremony. Areas where parents desired change included assistance with meal planning, food preparation, and clean-up; spending more time at meals; assistance with children's food pickiness; new recipes and meal ideas; and decreasing conflict at mealtimes. Findings suggest that interventions to increase family meal frequency and promote healthful foods at mealtimes should address promoting food acceptance among children, sharing responsibilities among parents and children for meal planning and preparation, decreasing conflict at meals, and eating out healthfully.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Eating* / physiology
  • Eating* / psychology
  • Family*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menu Planning
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Parents / education
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Restaurants
  • Schools
  • Social Environment
  • Social Support
  • Students / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors
  • United States