What’s Being Served for Dinner? An Exploratory Investigation of the Associations between the Healthfulness of Family Meals and Child Dietary Intake

Published:September 22, 2016DOI:



      Little is known about the healthfulness of foods offered at family meals or the relationship between the food’s healthfulness and child overall dietary intake.


      This exploratory study uses a newly developed Healthfulness of Meal Index to examine the association between the healthfulness of foods served at family dinners and child dietary intake.


      Direct observational, cross-sectional study.


      Primarily low-income, minority families (n=120) video recorded 8 days of family dinners and completed a corresponding meal screener. Dietary recalls were completed on the target child (6 to 12 years old). The Healthfulness of Meal Index was used to measure meal healthfulness and included component scores for whole fruit, 100% juice, vegetables, dark green vegetables, dairy, protein, added sugars, and high-sodium foods.

      Main outcome measures

      Child dietary intake measured by three 24-hour dietary recalls.

      Statistical analyses performed

      Linear regression models estimated the association between the healthfulness of foods served at dinner meals and overall child HEI.


      The majority of coded meals included foods from protein and high-sodium components; more than half included foods from dairy and vegetable components. Nearly half of the meals had an added-sugar component food (eg, soda or dessert). Few meals served foods from fruit, 100% juice, or dark green vegetable components. Many components served at family dinner meals were significantly associated with child daily intake of those same foods (ie, dark green vegetable, non−dark green vegetables, dairy, and added sugars). The Healthfulness of Meal Index total score was significantly associated with child HEI score.


      This study represents the first report of a new methodology to collect data of foods served at family dinners. Results indicated a significant association between the majority of components served at family dinner meals and child overall dietary intake. Validation of the Healthfulness of Meal Index and video-recorded family meal methodology is needed to strengthen these research methods for use in future studies.


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      A. C. Trofholz is a research associate, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      M. L. Draxten is a research associate, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      A. K. Schulte is a graduate research assistant, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      J. M. Berge is an associate professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      A. D. Tate is a PhD student, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      D. Neumark-Sztainer is a professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      R. F. MacLehose is an associate professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      S. S. Rowley is a PhD student, University of Washington, Seattle.