of this study was to determine how various family mealtime practices
influence family dynamics. The objectives were to determine the frequency
of meals per week consumed as a family, which meal was typically consumed
together, influencing factors on why families do or do not choose to
eat together, and the extent to which the participants perceived that
family meal time strengthens the family unit. Participants (n=50) in
the study completed a self-administered survey that consisted of questions
regarding current family mealtime practices, as well as general questions
about the family unit. Results indicated that family meals have the
potential to contribute positively to the family unit. Further research
comparing family characteristics of those who do consume family meals
to those who don't is warranted.
Few studies have examined the associations between family meal patterns
and the health and well being of household members. Little is known
about how the family unit is strengthened as a result of an increase
in family meals. Current research indicates that the family meal has
undergone changes over the years that have led to negative effects on
the eating habits, food choices, family ties, and the sociability and
adjustment of adolescents. Far too many families use activities as the
excuse for not being together, rather than seeing it as a choice of
priorities they've made (Whitaker, Deeks, Baughcum, & Specker, 2001).
Family meals allow for interaction and healthy nutrition. This research
has expanded upon the limited research examining family meal patterns
and associations with the health, well-being, and dietary intake of
People's lives are shaped in different ways according to their parents'
models and expectations of what development should be (Foster, 2001).
The family is referred to as one or two parents and their responsibility
for the growth and development of one or more children. The family is
responsible for the socialization and values of children. The amount
of time spent together and the way in which it is spent is a determinant
of the closeness of the family unit (Neumark-Stainer, Hannan, Story,
Croll, & Perry, 2003). Healthy families value table time and conversation
at family meals. Therapists say that there is a relationship between
the love in a home and the richness of the family table (Foster, 2001).
of the Family Meal
The family meal has the potential for providing youth with opportunities
for positive interactions with other family members, as well as for
contributing to good nutritional health (Curran, 2003). The United States
Food and Drug Administration defines a meal as a portion of a pyramid-based
dietary intake that includes three to five food groups (Renkyl, 2000).
A family meal is more than a source of nutrition; family meals have
been shown to promote family connectedness, development of healthful
eating behaviors, and the consumption of a healthful diet. The family
is more specifically defined as "Any configuration of people who
regularly eat together, or from the same household food resources, and
who mutually influence decisions about food." (Gillespie &
Gillespie, 2000, p. 1). A meal is considered a facilitator of food intake
(Meiselman, 2000) as well as a planned social interaction that focuses
on food. Family meals help children learn to distinguish between edible
versus inedible food, how to prepare foods, and how to behave in a family
meal setting (Meiselman, 2000). Despite this significance, many families
experience obstacles to consuming meals together.
Factors on the Frequency of Family Meals
Research on young children and teens now supports the value of the family
meal as a tool parents can use to help them raise healthy children.
However, eating together as a family presents a challenge for many adolescents
and their families as they cope with school demands, work schedules,
and extracurricular activities (Renkyl, 2000). Researchers Neumark-Sztainer,
Story, Ackard, Moe, Perry (2000) found that although 74% of adolescents
(n=4,629) indicated that they enjoyed eating meals with their families,
53% reported that different schedules don't let them eat meals together
on a regular basis. There are also findings that indicate changes in
family meal patterns over time and differences in family meals by sociodemographic
characteristics. In one particular study of 15,202 adolescents, 14.0%
reported eating family meals never, 19.1% reported one to two times
per week, 21.5% reported three or four times per week, 18.9% reported
five or six times per week, 18% reported seven times per week, and 18%
reported eating meals as a family more than seven times per week (Escobar,
of family meals is compared across sociodemographic characteristics,
girls tend to report fewer family meals than boys. Frequency of family
meals was significantly higher among middle school students than among
high school students (Smolak & Levine, 1995). Studies suggest significant
racial differences in family meal patterns, with the highest frequency
reported by Asian Americans. The mean frequency of family meals is highest
in many studies among youths whose mothers work full time. Overall literature
shows that frequent meals consumed together as a family are far from
the norm. American families eat dinner together less than half the time,
and the meals usually last less than twenty minutes (Fiese, Tomcho,
Douglas, Josephs, Poltrock, & Baker, 2002).
of Family Meal on the Strength of the Family Unit
According to a national survey of more than 1,000 married men and women
across the country, the daily ritual of gathering together at the dinner
table is considered the most important way to strengthen family ties
(Cox, 2002). Despite the stressful, fast-paced nature of present life,
a family that makes time for meals together has better connections with
each other. With everyone going their separate ways during the day,
dinner can be the only time for the whole family to be together. Although
it may not be convenient, parents should make a family dinner a priority.
Being together as a family can make a difference in the development
of children when they are as young as two or three years old (Foster,
2001). Family meals help keep the lines of communication open through
the teen years, when it is really important. A simple meal eaten together
as a family is a way to help families reconnect after a busy day. This
time together helps keep the family strong. Getting older children home
for dinner can be a challenge. In a survey conducted by the Families
and Work Institute, just 34% of teenagers said they share one meal a
day with one or both parents. Seventy-eight percent of parents said
they dine daily with kids ages four to seven years old (Curran, 2003).
Though it is harder to eat together as a family as children's lives
get busier with activities and friends, keeping them connected is vital
to the strength of the family unit. Experts say teenagers who feel emotionally
close to their families are far less likely to engage in risky behaviors
and activities (Smolak & Levine, 1995). Family meals are also a
way in which parents can celebrate accomplishments. This can give children
a self-esteem boost and improve their overall confidence (Stockmyer,
2001). Experts have stated that regular family meals provide great benefits,
as family members have no choice but to face and focus on each other.
Although all families have conflicts, family meals teach kids that there
is a safe place to come together (Stockmyer, 2001).
Meals Impact Nutritional Quality of Diets
The family mealtime environment has great potential to affect the eating
behaviors of youth in the family. Research shows that the current dietary
patterns of adolescents put them at risk for adult chronic disease and
that the family plays an important role in determining the dietary patterns
of youth (Kalish, 2001). Parents have a strong influence on food availability
and eating practices of children from infancy through their adolescence.
Within the context of the family environment, adolescents learn important
values about eating well and staying healthy (Nudo, 2002). These lessons
may be learned in families through instruction, reinforcement, modeling,
and exposure to healthful foods (Nudo, 2002). Families who regularly
consume meals together in the home have also been reported to have a
lower intake of fried foods and soft drinks (Kalish, 2001). Several
studies also suggest that foods obtained at home have less total fat,
saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium than foods obtained away from
the home (Smolak & Levine, 1995).
reviewed prior to conducting this research study indicated that current
family mealtime practices are far from ideal. The goal for completing
this study was to expand on current research by examining present mealtime
patterns and their effects on the well-being of the family unit. The
purpose of this study was to determine how the various family mealtime
practices of faculty and staff within the college of business and applied
sciences at a mid-sized Midwestern liberal arts university influence
family dynamics. Specific research questions were as follows:
is the frequency of meals per week consumed as a family?
2. Which meal is typically consumed together as a family?
3. What are the influencing factors on why families do or do not choose
to eat together?
4. Do the participants perceive the family meal to strengthen the
This section presents the investigative methods and procedures for this
study including data collection, sample, and statistical procedures.
A researcher-developed survey was administered to a convenience sample
of 50 faculty and staff.
The electronic survey (Appendix A) contained 24 multiple choice questions.
Question 10 specifically addressed research question one, regarding
the frequency of meals per week consumed as a family. Additionally,
questions 12-16 addressed the typical consumption during the meal. Questions
11 and 18 reflected the environment in which the meals were consumed
as a family. Question 17 addressed research question two, regarding
the meal most frequently consumed as a family. Research question three
was addressed in questions 21 and 23. Research question four was addressed
in question 24. Questions 1 through 9 addressed family demographic information,
and questions 19, 20, and 22 addressed the meal preparation and serving.
One family and consumer sciences professor examined face validity.
The subjects for this study were faculty and staff in the Lumpkin College
of Business and Applied Sciences at Eastern Illinois University during
the spring semester of 2005. Approval was granted by the Institutional
Review Board to continue to pursue this research project prior to distributing
the questionnaire. The questionnaire was sent out to all faculty and
staff in the college of business and applied sciences via e-mail. The
e-mail was sent to a total of 143 potential participants. Fifty of these
participants responded with a completed questionnaire, making a 35%
response rate for this research study. The e-mail stated that the questionnaire
was part of a study assessing current family mealtime patterns and their
effects on the health and well-being of household inhabitants. Subjects
were informed that participation in the study was voluntary and that
the duration of their participation in the study included only completing
the questionnaire. It was also specified that by responding to the e-mail
and completing the questionnaire, they were giving consent to participate
in the research study. The data collected from fifty faculty and staff
employees are discussed in subsequent sections.
The answers on each survey were electronically tabulated. Descriptive
statistics in the form of frequency data were calculated.
There were a total of 50 faculty and staff employees in the study: 21
males (42%) and 29 females (58%). Combined annual family income and
the working status of household inhabitants are also indicated.
the frequency of meals per week consumed as a family?
indicate that 52% (n=26) of participant's families consume a meal together
7 or more times per week, 24% (n=12) 5-6 times, 8% (n=4) 3-4 times,
12% (n=46) 1-2 times, and 4% (n=2) of participants stated they never
consume meals together as a family. Additionally, 88% (n=44) of participants
typically consume family meals at a set dining room table or at the
kitchen table. The other 12% (n=6) of participants consume family meals
in the family room, at a restaurant, or not at all.
differ from previous research regarding the frequency of meals consumed
per week as a family. As stated in the review of literature, in a previous
study of 15,202 adolescents, 14.0% reported eating family meals never,
19.1% reported one to two times per week, 21.5% reported three or four
times per week, 18.9% reported five or six times per week, 18% reported
seven times per week, and 18% reported eating meals as a family more
than seven times per week (Escobar, 1999). The 52% of participants who
indicated that they consume family meals together 7 or more times a
week in this study provide a more promising result than the 18% reported
in the 1999 study. Although the results from this research still represent
eating together as a family to be a challenge for many families, some
results show a possible increase in the consumption of family meals.
is typically consumed together as a family?
percent (n=44) of participants most frequently consume dinner as a family,
4% (n=2) consume lunch, and 8% (n=4) reported breakfast as the meal
most frequently consumed as a family. Although most participants indicated
sufficient starch and meat/protein intake at dinner, 30% (n=15) of participants
indicated no dairy intake, 38% (n=19) indicated no fruit intake, and
28% (n=14) of participants typically consume zero servings of vegetables
at dinner. The research results also indicate that 60% (n=30) of participants
spend only 15-20 minutes preparing family meals. In this study, meal
preparation was most often a joint effort by both parents and served
most often by the mother.
from this study correspond with previous studies regarding dinner as
the most frequently consumed meal as a family. Additionally, prior research
indicated that the lack of regular family meal times negatively impact
the nutritional quality of diets, especially in children. Other studies
have demonstrated that the consumption of family meals leads to eating
more fruits and vegetables and an improved overall dietary quality with
higher intake of several nutrients including calcium, fiber, iron, folate,
vitamin C, and B vitamins (Kalish 2001). Other findings from previous
studies provide clear evidence of a strong, positive association between
frequency of family meals and the quality of dietary intake.
Research Question 3
the influencing factors on why families do or do not choose to eat together?
percent (n=45) of participants indicated that their children have busy
schedules most days of the week. Forty-six percent (n=23) of survey
participants also indicated that they arrive home from work many days
after 7:00 p.m. The combination of these two factors may provide a challenge
for many families to make family meals a part of their daily regimen.
Seventy-eight percent (n=39) of participants indicated that their children
enjoy eating together as a family, so it can be postulated by this study
that children's attitudes about family meals is not a particular obstacle.
research studies have concluded that the increasing demands of work
schedules as well as the increasing amount of children involved in extracurricular
activities, have presented a challenge for many families to consume
meals together. The results from this research study concur with these
conclusions. Many families find it difficult to make family meal time
a priority. This research has expanded upon the preceding research recognizing
today's hectic lifestyle of many children and parents to be a contributing
factor to the lack of regular meal times.
participants perceive the family meal to strengthen the family unit?
percent (n=48) of participants perceived family mealtimes to strengthen
their family unit. Further research is needed to substantiate this result.
the sample size used for this study is relatively small, some conclusions
can be made regarding the data that was collected and analyzed in this
study. The results of this research study suggest that (a) family meals
have the potential to contribute positively to the family unit, (b)
regular family meals may help improve the nutritional adequacy of the
diet, and (c) busy schedules of parents and children may have resulted
in a decrease in the frequency of family meals.
for Further Study
of this study provide information regarding the typical consumption
of meals together as a family and on factors influencing these meal
patterns. Additional questions pertaining to the effects of family mealtime
patterns on the health and well being of the household inhabitants warrant
further investigation. The following recommendations for further research
and study are offered:
the study, using a population, to determine the effects of family
mealtime practices on the household inhabitants.
2. Conduct more research on the specific ways family meals may strengthen
the family unit.
3. Study the effects of family mealtimes on the social development
4. Conduct a qualitative study examining the barriers to family meal
(2002). Reinventing the family dinner. Good Housekeeping, 234(4),
D. R. (2001). Traits of a Healthy Family (pp. 31-43). NY: Ballantine
Fiese, B. H., Tomcho, T. J., Douglas, M., Josephs, K., Poltrock, S.,
& Baker, T. (2002). A review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally
Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration? Journal
of Family Psychology, 57(6), 381-389.
E. (2001). Dinner talk: Cultural patterns of sociability and socialization
in family discourse. Southern Communication Journal, 66(2), 168-169.
& Gillespie. (2004). Family Mealtime: Inviting Everyone to the
Table, Society of Nutrition Education 37th Annual Conference, (pp.1-6).
M. W., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., & Frazier, A. L. (2000). Family dinner
and diet quality among Older children and adolescents. Journal of
Family Medicine, 40(9), 509-512.
N. (2001). Why family dinner is worth it. Parenting Magazine,
H. L. (2000). Dimensions of the Meal. SNE 27th Annual Conference,
M. (1997). Dinner Talk: Cultural Patterns of Sociability and Socialization
in Family Discourse. Bilingual Research Journal, 21(4), 431-435.
D., Story, M., Perry, C., & Casey, M. A. (1999). Factors influencing
food choices of adolescents: Findings from focus-group discussion with
adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99(3),
D., Hannan, P. J., Story, M., Croll, J., & Perry, C. (2003). Family
meal patterns: Associations with sociodemographic characteristics and
improved dietary intake among adolescents. Journal of the American
Dietetic Association, 103(3), 317-322.
D., Story, M. A., Ackard, M., Moe, D., & Perry, J. (2000). The "family
meal": View of adolescents. Journal of Nutrition Education,
(2000). Make a dinner date tonight! Prevention, 54(7), 48-49.
M. (2000). In praise of family meals. Family Economics and Nutrition
Review, 12(4), 33-44.
Smolak, L., & Levine, M. (1995). Ten things parents can do to help
prevent eating disorders in their children. Healthy Weight Journal,
C. (2001). Remember when mom wanted you home for dinner? Nutrition
Reviews, 59(2), 57-60.
R. C., Deeks, C. M., Gaughcum, A. E., Specker, B. L., (2000). The relationship
of childhood obesity to parent eating behavior. United States Drug Aministration,
1. What is the size of your family?
e. 5 or more
you a male or female?
is the combined annual family income at your home?
a. < 30,000
e. > $150,000
best describes the working status of household inhabitants?
a. One working parent, one parent stays home
b. Two working parents
c. One single working parent
d. Neither parent currently working
of people living in your household pre school age or younger.
e. 4 or more
of people living in your household of elementary school age.
e. 4 or more
of people living in your household of middle school age.
e. 4 or more
of people living in your household of high school age.
e. 4 or more
currently have no children living at home.
a. Not true
frequently do you eat together as a family during a typical week?
a. 7 or more
b. 5-6 times
c. 3-4 times
d. 1-2 times
of the following describes the mealtime environment at your home?
a. Sit down, conversational dinner with family. Television is off.
b. Sit down, conversational dinner with family. Television is on.
c. Family eats together but not at a table, television is on.
d. All members make whatever they want, whenever it is convenient for
e. Pick up fast food and eat in the car or in front of the television
many servings of bread are consumed at dinner on a typical day?
e. 4 or more
many servings of meat/protein are consumed at dinner on a typical day?
e. 4 or more
many servings of dairy are consumed at dinner on a typical day?
e. 4 or more
many servings of fruit are consumed at dinner on a typical day?
e. 4 or more
many servings of vegetables are consumed at dinner on a typical day?
e. 4 or more
meal is most frequently consumed as a family?
do you most frequently consume meals as a family?
a. At a set dining room table.
b. At the kitchen table.
c. In the family room
d. At a restaurant.
e. We don't ever eat meals together as a family.
usually prepares meals at your household?
c. It is a joint effort by both parents.
d. All members eat what they want when they have time.
e. The grocery store (ex: already prepared food from Wal-Mart).
is the average length of time spent on preparing family meals?
a. 15-20 minutes
b. 20-40 minutes
c. 40-60 minutes
d. An hour or more
best describes your cooking abilities?
a. I consider myself to be a good cook, when I have the time.
b. My family complains about how I cook.
c. Nobody ever taught me how to cook..
d. I can cook basic and repeated meals.
e. I can't cook at all.
serves meals at your household?
c. Nobody serves meals
d. The delivery person
e. All family members
circle all that apply to your family?
a. Children have busy schedules most days of the week.
b. You arrive home from work many days after 7:00pm.
c. Meals are prepared more on weekends than during the weekdays.
d. Meals are prepared more often during weekdays than during weekends.
e. Children enjoy eating together as a family.
you believe family mealtime strengthens your family?