Poster Topical Area: Nutrition Education and Behavioral Sciences

Location: Auditorium

Poster Board Number: 191

P18-023 - Behaviors and Cognitions of Parents of Elementary School Children Related to Family Meals

Sunday, Jun 10
8:00 AM – 6:00 PM


Frequent family meals (FM) promote strong family bonds, improved school performance, and healthy child weights, yet little is known about parent cognitions related to FMs (e.g., values, barriers, facilitators).


Parents of 6-to-11 year-olds (n=185) completed a survey and 37 completed focus group discussions.


Survey results reveal that 90% of parents look forward to FMs and eat an average of 6.88±4.35SD FMs/week. Focus Group participants reported that dinner was the meal most often eaten as a family. They valued FMs, rating them as important because FMs provided opportunities for conversation and family bonding. Common FM conversations included reviewing the day and talking about future plans. Parents emphasized the importance of limiting TV and phones at meals to promote conversation. Busy schedules, including child activities and parent work, were the greatest barrier to FMs. To cope with busy schedules, parents planned ahead, prepared meals in advance, used meal/grocery delivery services, and involved kids in meal preparation. Parents reported their kids assisted by washing dishes, setting/clearing the table, and helping to cook. Their kids could prepare sandwiches, cereal, and smoothies, and packed lunches. Most parents did not allow kids to use the stove or oven unsupervised. Some thought that it was a hassle to let kids help and preferred that kids watch or not be involved. Parents felt a positive mealtime environment is important for building family relationships and fostering healthy relationships with food. Picky eaters and unpleasant conversation topics were noted by English-speaking parents as making meal times unenjoyable, while family conflict was mentioned by Spanish-speakers. Parents made meal times more enjoyable by involving kids in meal preparation and re-directing conversations away from unpleasant topics or conflicts. English-speakers reported that their kids' exposure to new foods at school helped them become more adventurous eaters. Spanish-speakers were mostly concerned about exposure to the unhealthy foods (burgers, pizza) kids are served at school.


Helping parents overcome the barriers of a busy schedule and promote FMs as a time to strengthen family bonds should be a focus of future nutrition education programs.

Funding Source:

United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Grant Number 2017-680001-26351

CoAuthors: Kaitlyn Eck – Rutgers University; Colleen Delaney – Rutgers University; Karla Shelnutt – University of Florida; Melissa Olfert – West Virginia University; Carol Byrd-Bredbenner – Rutgers University

Kaitlyn Eck

Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey