A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior (JNEB) builds on years of previous research studies and demonstrates the value of family meals. This study showed that more frequent family meals were associated with better dietary outcomes and family functioning outcomes. While Americans celebrate the month of March as National Nutrition Month, these findings underscore the myriad benefits advanced by family meals advocates over the past few years and punctuate the official launch of the Family Meals Movement.
“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,” said lead study author, Shannon M. Robson, PhD, MPH, RD, an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition and a Principal Investigator of the Energy Balance and Nutrition Laboratory at the University of Delaware. “A systematic review as well as a meta-analysis, when statistically appropriate, of all relevant studies published in a peer reviewed journal in English prior to December 2018 was conducted.”
There are two notable findings to this study:
- 1. Family meals improve fruit and vegetable consumption – overwhelmingly, studies showed a positive relationship between family meal frequency and fruit and vegetable intake when examined separately, but also when fruit and vegetable intake were combined.
2. Family meals improve family functioning – nearly all the studies included in the systematic review and meta-analysis demonstrated a positive relationship between family meal frequency and measures of family functioning. Family functioning is defined as family connectedness, communication, expressiveness, and problem-solving.
“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 FMI Foundation, the organization that provided a research grant for this study. “It is particularly fitting that as we celebrate National Nutrition Month, we can confirm that family meals are a valuable contributor of improved nutrition and family functioning. This compelling evidence energizes us to expand our National Family Meals Month efforts to a year-long Family Meals Movement.”
For the past five years, the FMI Foundation has driven National Family Meals Month™ which has been observed each September. The campaign has encouraged Americans to strive for just one more family meal per week at home and energized more than 600 partners – food retailers, suppliers, collaborators, media and celebrities – to support the campaign. A Harris Poll national tracking study impressively substantiates that mealtime behaviors are changing because of this initiative with 36% of Americans who saw the campaign cooking more meals at home and eating together more often as a family.
“Even more impressive than the positive behavior changes we have seen over the past five years,” Fikes continued, “is that 89% of Americans believe it’s important for families to have as many family meals as possible each week, and 84% are willing to commit to doing so throughout the year. This kind of interest and commitment has motivated us to expand National Family Meals Month to the ongoing Family Meals Movement.”
The FMI Foundation encourages Americans to join the Family Meals Movement by pledging to share one more family breakfast, lunch or dinner at home per week using items from the grocery store. Shoppers can post pledge photos, mealtime pictures, favorite recipes, shopping tips or even a selfie wearing a favorite oven mitt with the hashtag #FamilyMealsMovement. In addition, the FMI Foundation has developed a website with consumer tips and links to numerous partners committed to helping consumers achieve their increased family meals goal.