Family meals are associated with multiple health benefits in children and adolescents including evidence that eating together as a family may play a role in reducing childhood obesity. The current review aims to investigate whether the beneficial health effects of the family meal also apply to infants and toddlers. PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus and PsycInfo were searched and 14 empirical studies were identified. The findings were discussed according to frequency of having a family meal and parental perception, associations between the family meal and health aspects (e.g., eating behaviors and diet quality) and causal influences of these associations. Descriptive data showed that mothers offer food at a structured mealtime, but that eating together as a family was not always upheld. The frequency of family meals was positively associated with more nutrient-dense food intake and a more balanced diet. Different advantages (e.g., social importance, practical considerations) and obstacles (e.g., planning, possible mess) of the family meal were mentioned by parents. Further, having structured mealtimes and family meals was associated with more food enjoyment and less fussy and emotional eating. Finally, no causal studies were identified. The limited number of studies suggests that the pattern of positive associations between family meal and child health which has been shown in older children may also exist in infants and toddlers. More specific research is needed to examine the causality of the associations between the family meal and health of the infant and toddler. The associations between the family meal and less fussiness and emotional eating, more food enjoyment and better nutrient intake suggest that the family meal is a valuable moment to promote healthy eating in toddlers and infants.
Keywords: Eating behavior; Family meal; Health; Infant; Toddler.
Copyright © 2018. Published by Elsevier Ltd.