Eck KM, Spaccarotella K, Delaney CL, Olfert MD, Shelnutt KP and Byrd-Bredbenner C
Objective: Family meals, particularly those occurring in calm environments, are associated with numerous health benefits for both children and parents. However, families often struggle to share meals, with the frequency declining as kids get older. This qualitative research study aimed to explore the factors influencing family meal behaviors.
Methods: Parents (n=38) and school-age children (n=37) participated in focus group discussions guided by Social Cognitive Theory.
Results: Content analysis results indicate that parents and children believed family meals were important, promoted communication, and strengthened family bonds. Parents and children reported that a calm, enjoyable, conflict-free mealtime environment bolstered mealtime enjoyment and increased the likelihood of regular family meals. Busy schedules were the greatest barrier to family meals identified by children and parents. Strategies for overcoming barriers to family meals identified by parents were similar to those shared by kids and included keeping mealtime conversations positive, altering schedules to accommodate family mealtime, planning ahead, using time saving strategies and recruiting kids to help with meal preparation.
Conclusion: This qualitative research study provides novel insights into parents’ and school-age children’s cognitions (e.g., beliefs, attitudes), barriers, and facilitators related to family meals. Consideration of these insights during the development of nutrition education interventions has the potential to improve intervention effectiveness in increasing family meal frequency.