Skip to main content Accessibility help

What's for dinner? Types of food served at family dinner differ across parent and family characteristics

  • Dianne Neumark-Sztainer (a1), Rich MacLehose (a2), Katie Loth (a1), Jayne A Fulkerson (a3), Marla E Eisenberg (a4) and Jerica Berge (a5)...



To examine the types of food served at family dinner in the homes of adolescents and correlations with parent and family sociodemographic characteristics, psychosocial factors and meal-specific variables.


A cross-sectional population-based survey completed by mail or telephone by parents participating in Project F-EAT (Families and Eating and Activity in Teens) in 2009–2010.


Homes of families with adolescents in Minneapolis/St. Paul urban area, MN, USA.


Participants included 1923 parents/guardians (90·8 % female; 68·5 % from ethnic/racial minorities) of adolescents who participated in EAT 2010.


Less than a third (28 %) of parents reported serving a green salad at family dinner on a regular basis, but 70 % reported regularly serving vegetables (other than potatoes). About one-fifth (21 %) of families had fast food at family dinners two or more times per week. Variables from within the sociodemographic domain (low educational attainment) psychosocial domain (high work–life stress, depressive symptoms, low family functioning) and meal-specific domain (low value of family meals, low enjoyment of cooking, low meal planning, high food purchasing barriers and fewer hours in food preparation) were associated with lower healthfulness of foods served at family dinners, in analyses adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics.


There is a need for interventions to improve the healthfulness of food served at family meals. Interventions need to be suitable for parents with low levels of education; take parent and family psychosocial factors into account; promote more positive attitudes toward family meals; and provide skills to make it easier to plan and prepare healthful family meals.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      What's for dinner? Types of food served at family dinner differ across parent and family characteristics
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      What's for dinner? Types of food served at family dinner differ across parent and family characteristics
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      What's for dinner? Types of food served at family dinner differ across parent and family characteristics
      Available formats


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Email


Hide All
1. Woodruff, SJ & Hanning, RM (2008) A review of family meal influence on adolescents’ dietary intake. Can J Diet Pract Res 69, 1422.
2. Feldman, S, Eisenberg, M, Neumark-Sztainer, D et al. (2007) Associations between watching TV during family meals and dietary intake among adolescents. J Nutr Educ Behav 39, 257263.
3. Burgess-Champoux, TL, Larson, NI, Neumark-Sztainer, D et al. (2009) Are family meal patterns associated with overall diet quality during the transition from early to middle adolescence? J Nutr Educ Behav 41, 7986.
4. Larson, NI, Neumark-Sztainer, D, Hannan, PJ et al. (2007) Family meals during adolescence are associated with higher diet quality and healthful meal patterns during young adulthood. J Am Diet Assoc 107, 15021510.
5. Videon, TM & Manning, CK (2003) Influences on adolescent eating patterns: the importance of family meals. J Adolesc Health 32, 365373.
6. Gillman, MW, Rifas-Shiman, SL, Frazier, AL et al. (2000) Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Arch Fam Med 9, 235240.
7. Neumark-Sztainer, D, Hannan, PJ, Story, M et al. (2003) Family meal patterns: associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc 103, 317322.
8. Neumark-Sztainer, D (2006) Eating among teens: do family mealtimes make a difference for adolescents’ nutrition? New Dir Child Adolesc Dev issue 111, 91105.
9. Veugelers, PJ, Fitzgerald, AL & Johnston, E (2005) Dietary intake and risk factors for poor diet quality among children in Nova Scotia. Can J Public Health 96, 212216.
10. Hannon, PA, Bowen, DJ, Moinpour, CM et al. (2003) Correlations in perceived food use between the family food preparer and their spouses and children. Appetite 40, 7783.
11. Vejrup, K, Lien, N, Klepp, KI et al. (2008) Consumption of vegetables at dinner in a cohort of Norwegian adolescents. Appetite 51, 9096.
12. Woodruff, SJ & Hanning, RM (2009) Effect of meal environment on diet quality rating. Can J Diet Pract Res 70, 118124.
13. Woodruff, SJ, Hanning, RM, McGoldrick, K et al. (2010) Healthy eating index-C is positively associated with family dinner frequency among students in grades 6–8 from Southern Ontario, Canada. Eur J Clin Nutr 64, 454460.
14. MacFarlane, A, Crawford, D, Ball, K et al. (2007) Adolescent home food environments and socioeconomic position. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 16, 748756.
15. Rollins, BY, Belue, RZ & Francis, LA (2010) The beneficial effect of family meals on obesity differs by race, sex, and household education: the national survey of children's health, 2003–2004. J Am Diet Assoc 110, 13351339.
16. Gable, S, Chang, Y & Krull, JL (2007) Television watching and frequency of family meals are predictive of overweight onset and persistence in a national sample of school-aged children. J Am Diet Assoc 107, 5361.
17. Sen, B (2006) Frequency of family dinner and adolescent body weight status: evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997. Obesity (Silver Spring) 14, 22662276.
18. Eaton, DK, Kann, L, Kinchen, S et al. (2006) Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2005. MMWR CDC Surveill Summ 55, 1108.
19. Koplan, JP, Liverman, CT & Kraak, VI (2005) Preventing childhood obesity: health in the balance: executive summary. J Am Diet Assoc 105, 131138.
20. Spear, BA (2002) Adolescent growth and development. J Am Diet Assoc 102, 3 Suppl., S23S29.
21. Story, M, Holt, K & Sofka, D (editors) (2000) Bright Futures in Practice: Nutrition. Arlington, VA: National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health.
22. Cook, A & Friday, J (2005) Pyramid Servings Intakes in the United States 1999–2002, 1 Day. Beltsville, MD: US Department of Agriculture; available at
23. Moshfegh, A, Goldman, J & Cleveland, L (2005) What We Eat in America, NHANES 2001–2002: Usual Nutrient Intakes from Food Compared to Dietary Reference Intakes. Beltsville, MD: US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service; available at
24. Haines, J, Gillman, MW, Rifas-Shiman, S et al. (2010) Family dinner and disordered eating behaviors in a large cohort of adolescents. Eat Disord 18, 1024.
25. Worobey, J (2002) Early family mealtime experiences and eating attitudes in normal weight, underweight and overweight females. Eat Weight Disord 7, 3944.
26. Miller, DAF, McCluskey-Fawcett, K & Irving, LM (1993) Correlates of bulimia nervosa: early family mealtime experiences. Adolescence 28, 621635.
27. Fulkerson, JA, Neumark-Sztainer, D, Hannan, PJ et al. (2008) Family meal frequency and weight status among adolescents: cross-sectional and five-year longitudinal associations. Obesity (Silver Spring) 16, 25292534.
28. Ackard, D & Neumark-Sztainer, D (2001) Family mealtime while growing up: associations with symptoms of bulimia nervosa. Eat Disord 9, 2 39249.
29. Neumark-Sztainer, D, Eisenberg, ME, Fulkerson, JA et al. (2008) Family meals and disordered eating in adolescents: longitudinal findings from Project EAT. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 162, 1722.
30. Neumark-Sztainer, D, Wall, M, Story, M et al. (2004) Are family meal patterns associated with disordered eating behaviors among adolescents? J Adolesc Health 35, 350359.
31. Eisenberg, ME, Olson, RE, Neumark-Sztainer, D et al. (2004) Correlations between family meals and psychosocial well-being among adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 158, 792796.
32. Bowden BS, Zeisz JM (1997) Supper's on! Adolescent adjustment and frequency of family mealtimes. Paper presented at 105th Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, IL, 15–19 August 1997.
33. Hammons, AJ & Fiese, BH (2011) Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Pediatrics 127, e1565e1574.
34. Cho, S, Dietrich, M, Brown, CJ et al. (2003) The effect of breakfast type on total daily energy intake and body mass index: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). J Am Coll Nutr 22, 296302.
35. Bandura, A (1986) Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
36. Sallis, JF, Owen, N, Fisher, EB (2008) Ecological models of health behavior. In Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice, 4th ed., pp. 465485 [K Glanz, BK Rimer and K Viswanath editors]. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
37. Fulkerson, JA, Lytle, L, Story, M et al. (2012) Development and validation of a screening instrument to assess the types and quality of foods served at home meals. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 9, 10.
38. Boutelle, K, Fulkerson, JA, Neumark-Sztainer, D et al. (2007) Fast food for family meals: relationships with parent and adolescent food intake, home food availability and weight status. Public Health Nutr 10, 1623.
39. Marshall, NL & Barnett, RC (1991) Race, class and multiple role strains and gains among women employed in the service sector. Women Health 17, 119.
40. Marshall, NL & Barnett, RC (1993) Work–family strains and gains among 2-earner couples. J Community Psychol 21, 6 478.
41. Bohannon, RW, Maljanian, R & Goethe, J (2003) Screening for depression in clinical practice: reliability and validity of a five-item subset of the CES-Depression. Percept Mot Skills 97, 855861.
42. Epstein, NB, Baldwin, LM & Bishop, D (1983) The McMaster family assessment device. J Marital Fam Ther 9, 171180.
43. Hogen PD (1988) The relationship between individual psychological characteristics and factors associated with family use of food as predictors of disturbed eating attitudes and behaviors in adolescents. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Hartford.
44. Campbell, KJ, Crawford, DA, Salmon, J et al. (2007) Associations between the home food environment and obesity-promoting eating behaviors in adolescence. Obesity (Silver Spring) 15, 719730.
45. Hardy, LL, Baur, LA, Garnett, SP et al. (2006) Family and home correlates of television viewing in 12–13 year old adolescents: The Nepean Study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 3, 24.
46. Demo, DH & Acock, AC (1993) Family diversity and the division of domestic labor: how much have things really changed? Fam Relat 42, 323331.
47. Localio, AR, Margolis, DJ & Berlin, JA (2007) Relative risks and confidence intervals were easily computed indirectly from multivariable logistic regression. J Clin Epidemiol 60, 874882.
48. Fulkerson, JA, Farbakhsh, K, Lytle, L et al. (2011) Away-from-home family dinner sources and associations with weight status, body composition, and related biomarkers of chronic disease among adolescents and their parents. J Am Diet Assoc 111, 18921897.
49. Bauer, K, Hearst, MO, Escoto, KH et al. (2012) Parental employment and work–family stress: Associations with family food environment. Soc Sci Med 75, 496504.
50. Fulkerson, JA, Story, M, Neumark-Sztainer, D et al. (2008) Family meals: perceptions of benefits and challenges among parents of 8- to 10-year-old children. J Am Diet Assoc 108, 706709.
51. Devine, CM, Jastran, M, Jabs, J et al. (2006) ‘A lot of sacrifices’: work–family spillover and the food choice coping strategies of low-wage employed parents. Soc Sci Med 63, 25912603.
52. Devine, CM, Connors, MM, Sobal, J et al. (2003) Sandwiching it in: spillover of work onto food choices and family roles in low- and moderate-income urban households. Soc Sci Med 56, 617630.
53. Devine, CM, Farrell, TJ, Blake, CE et al. (2009) Work conditions and the food choice coping strategies of employed parents. J Nutr Educ Behav 41, 365370.
54. Lovejoy, MC, Graczyk, PA, O'Hare, E et al. (2000) Maternal depression and parenting behavior: a meta-analytic review. Clin Psychol Rev 20, 561592.
55. Wilson, S & Durbin, CE (2010) Effects of paternal depression on fathers’ parenting behaviors: a meta-analytic review. Clin Psychol Rev 30, 167180.
56. McIntosh, WA, Kubena, KS, Tolle, G et al. (2010) Mothers and meals. The effects of mothers’ meal planning and shopping motivations on children's participation in family meals. Appetite 55, 623628.
57. Jacobs, MP & Fiese, BH (2007) Family mealtime interactions and overweight children with asthma: potential for compounded risks? J Pediatr Psychol 32, 6468.
58. Gallegos, D, Dziurawiec, S, Fozdar, F et al. (2011) Adolescent experiences of ‘family meals’ in Australia. J Sociol 47, 243.
59. Story, M & Neumark-Sztainer, D (2005) A perspective on family meals: do they matter? Nutr Today 40, 261266.
60. Fiese, BH & Schwartz, M (2008) Reclaiming the family table: mealtimes and child health and wellbeing. Soc Policy Rep XXII, issue IV, 319.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed