Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Is there something special about family meals?

More Scottish teenagers are overweight or obese than anywhere else in Europe (IASO data for 2012). This single statement points to an urgent need to improve children's diet. Recent research from Valeria Skafida at CRFR looks at the eating habits of toddlers under 5 years of age and asks if and why family meals promote better eating habits.

Research has shown that family meals are generally linked to positive nutritional outcomes, yet it remains unclear exactly what it is about them that are so beneficial. Using data from Growing Up in Scotland ( this research looked at the quality of children's diets to explore its relationships to families meal habits, how often family's ate together, meal enjoyment and different family characterstics.

The research found a number of factors which were significantly associated with healthier diets in toddlers, including:
  • eating a main meal and limiting snacking
  • having regular meal times
  • eating the same food as parents
  • eating in a dining space rather than in bedrooms or living rooms
  • enjoying meal times as a 'time to talk to each other'
  • being the first-born child
Interestingly, and contributing something new to our knowledge in this area, this research found that eating at the same time as parents or eating together as a family was not a significant indicator of a nutritious diet. Eating the same food as parents was the aspect most strongly linked to dietary quality in toddlers.

For more discussion about these findings please read our latest briefing: Is there something special about family meals? Exploring how family meal habits relate to young children's diets.

This research is part of ongoing postdoctoral reserach looking at the changing food habits of children in the context of family life. Please contact Valeria at

We publish 6-8 research briefings every year. Read them all at:

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