Happy meals are healthy meals: Family mealtime practices and their relation to child nutritional health


  • J. Mata
  • M. Dallacker
  • R. Hertwig


Eating behavior needs to be understood in a social context. Particularly for children, family meals are associated with healthier nutrition. However, what about family meals is “healthy� One meta-analysis (Dallacker, Hertwig, & Mata, 2017) – based on cross-sectional, observational studies –identified six family mealtime practices that are associated with healthier nutrition in children: positive mealtime atmosphere, TV off, longer meal duration, children’s involvement in meal preparation, homemade food, and parental role modeling. Importantly, longitudinal field studies on endorsement of these practices in daily meals, their intercorrelations, and their predictive value for children’s nutritional health are missing. Daily, for seven consecutive days, N=309 parents described their most important family meal of the day (e.g., foods, duration, participants), food intake for a target child (mean age 9.0 years), and indicated which mealtime practices were present during each meal. On average, each parent responded to 5.6 (SD=1.4) daily surveys. Correlations between mealtime practices were small (rs <.22), suggesting distinct behaviors. The most endorsed mealtime practices were turning TV off (on average across the measurement week, 76% reported having the TV turned off entirely during meals) and creating a positive mealtime atmosphere (78% described mealtime atmosphere as positive). The best predictors of higher nutritional quality of children’s meal intake were homemade food, parental role modeling, and creating a positive mealtime atmosphere (ps<.05). The results suggest that the mealtime practices deduced from independent meta-analyses are distinct practices, endorsed by families in everyday family meals, and predictive of healthier nutrition in daily family meal settings.





Oral presentations