NEWARK, Del. — A meal is one of the best ways to bring people together, and that may be especially true for families with young children. A new study conducted by a University of Delaware-led research team shows that dining together as a family leads to better dietary practices and a stronger bond between parents and children.
This study is not exactly a new study, but a review of other peer-reviewed studies on the topic of family meals. These analyses reveal that more frequent family meals leads to more fruit and vegetable consumption and overall healthy eating, along with a positive increase in measures of family functioning. These measures include family connectedness, communication with parents, and family cohesion.
“This study employed a comprehensive approach to explore the direction and magnitude of the relationship between exposure to family meals and dietary and family functioning outcomes in children,” says lead author Dr. Shannon M. Robson, and an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition at Delaware, in a media release.
The meta-analysis shows that eating together as a family also has a slightly positive outcome with regards to sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks. However, the analysis is inconclusive regarding other “unhealthy” foods like snack foods, fast-food and desserts.
“There are thousands of individual studies that examine the impact of family meals on nutrition and family behavior, but this new meta-analyses looks at the relationship between family meal frequency and family functioning outcomes,” said David Fikes, executive director of the Food Marketing Institute Foundation, the organization that provided a research grant for this study.
The authors of the study conclude by suggesting directions for further research. While their review indicates that family meal frequency may lead to improved communication and overall family functioning, they say more studies should be performed to confirm this. Also, more research can help determine the relationship between family meals and unhealthy food consumption.
Lastly, the researchers suggest that standardized measures of family meals and associated outcomes should be developed to help clarify the findings of studies on family meals.
The study is published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.