The current mixed-methods study explored qualitative accounts of prior childhood experiences and current contextual factors around family meals across three quantitatively informed categories of family meal frequency patterns from adolescence to parenthood: (i) ‘maintainers’ of family meals across generations; (ii) ‘starters’ of family meals in the next generation; and (iii) ‘inconsistent’ family meal patterns across generations.
Quantitative survey data collected as part of the first (1998–1999) and fourth (2015–2016) waves of the longitudinal Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Adolescents and Young Adults) study and qualitative interviews conducted with a subset (n 40) of Project EAT parent participants in 2016–2017.
Surveys were completed in school (Wave 1) and online (Wave 4); qualitative interviews were completed in-person or over the telephone.
Parents of children of pre-school age (n 40) who had also completed Project EAT surveys at Wave 1 and Wave 4.
Findings revealed salient variation within each overarching theme around family meal influences (‘early childhood experiences’, ‘influence of partner’, ‘household skills’ and ‘family priorities’) across the three intergenerational family meal patterns, in which ‘maintainers’ had numerous influences that supported the practice of family meals; ‘starters’ experienced some supports and some challenges; and ‘inconsistents’ experienced many barriers to making family meals a regular practice.
Family meal interventions should address differences in cooking and planning skills, aim to reach all adults in the home, and seek to help parents who did not eat family meals as a child develop an understanding of how and why they might start this tradition with their family.