Family Characteristics Associated with Preparing and Eating More Family Evening Meals at Home

Published:August 02, 2021DOI:



      Research has demonstrated dietary quality benefits of family meals and meals prepared at home. Less is known about associations between the proportion of family evening meals made at home and key personal, behavioral, and environmental characteristics. Moreover, most studies often measure these data retrospectively.


      The objective of this study is to describe the proportion of evening meals made at home measured in real time and to assess associations between personal, behavioral, and environmental characteristics that are associated with a higher proportion of evening meals prepared and consumed at home.


      This study is a cross-sectional secondary analysis of baseline data collected during 2017 and 2018 from the New Ulm at Home study, a randomized controlled trial conducted in rural Minnesota to evaluate the effectiveness of a childhood obesity prevention program for school-aged children.


      The present study analyzes a subset of the New Ulm at Home trial data from families (N = 108) who completed at least four evening meal screeners collected in real time with ecological momentary assessment technology over a 2-week period.

      Main outcome measure

      The main outcome measure was the proportion of family evening meals made at home, calculated using two cutpoints (≤50% of evening meals prepared at home vs >50%; ≤70% vs >70%).

      Statistical analysis

      Descriptive statistics were used to describe the proportion of evening meals prepared at home. Logistic regression analyses adjusted for parent education were used to assess associations between family characteristics and the two different proportions of meals made at home.


      Most family evening meals were prepared and eaten at home (62%). Logistic regression models indicated meal planning skills (odds ratio=1.19, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.39) and mealtime routines (odds ratio=1.20, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.40) were significantly associated with odds of preparing more than 50% of evening meals at home. Only meal planning skills (odds ratio=1.27, 95% CI 1.06 to 1.51) was significantly associated with odds of preparing more than 70% of evening meals at home.


      Study findings indicated mealtime routines and meal planning skills were associated with preparing more than 50% of evening meals at home, but only meal planning skills were associated with preparing more than 70% of evening meals at home, which may suggest the importance of adapting interventions for families. Future research should build on these findings in randomized controlled trials.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


      1. US Depts of Health and Human Services and Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th edition. Accessed June 1, 2021.

        • Fulkerson J.A.
        • Larson N.
        • Horning M.
        • Neumark-Sztainer D.
        A review of associations between family or shared meal frequency and dietary and weight status outcomes across the lifespan.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2014; 46
        • Hammons A.J.
        • Fiese B.H.
        Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents?.
        Pediatrics. 2011; 127: e1565-e1574
        • Robson S.M.
        • McCullough M.B.
        • Rex S.
        • Munafò M.R.
        • Taylor G.
        Family meal frequency, diet, and family functioning: a systematic review with meta-analyses.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2020; 52: 553-564
        • Sobal J.
        • Hanson K.
        Family dinner frequency, settings and sources, and body weight in US adults.
        Appetite. 2014; 78: 81-88
        • Boutelle K.N.
        • Fulkerson J.A.
        • Neumark-sztainer D.
        • Story M.
        • French S.A.
        Fast food for family meals: relationships with parent and adolescent food intake, home food availability and weight status.
        . 2007; 10: 16-23
        • Mills S.
        • Brown H.
        • Wrieden W.
        • White M.
        • Adams J.
        Frequency of eating home cooked meals and potential benefits for diet and health: Cross-sectional analysis of a population- based cohort study.
        Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017; 14: 109
        • Wolfson J.A.
        • Leung C.W.
        • Richardson C.R.
        More frequent cooking at home is associated with higher Healthy Eating Index-2015 score.
        Public Health Nutr. 2020; : 1-11
        • Fertig A.R.
        • Loth K.A.
        • Trofholz A.C.
        • et al.
        Compared to pre-prepared meals, fully and partly home-cooked meals in diverse families with young children are more likely to include nutritious ingredients.
        J Acad Nutr Diet. 2019; 119: 818-830
        • Altman M.
        • Cahill Holland J.
        • Lundeen D.
        • et al.
        Reduction in food away from home is associated with improved child relative weight and body composition outcomes and this relation is mediated by changes in diet quality.
        J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015; 115: 1400-1407
        • Overcash F.
        • Davey C.
        • Zhang Y.
        • Reicks M.
        Evening meal types and family meal characteristics: Associations with demographic characteristics and food intake among adolescents.
        Nutrients. 2020; 12
        • Berge J.M.
        • Beebe M.
        • Smith M.C.-M.
        • Tate A.
        • Trofholz A.
        • Loth K.
        Ecological momentary assessment of the breakfast, lunch, and dinner family meal environment in racially/ethnically diverse and immigrant households.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2019; 51: 658-676
        • Bandura A.
        Social cognitive theory.
        in: Vasta R. Annals of Child Development. Vol. 6. Six Theories of Child Development. JAI Press, Greenwich, CT1989: 1-60
        • Reicks M.
        • Trofholz A.C.
        • Stang J.S.
        • Laska M.N.
        Impact of cooking and home food preparation interventions among adults: outcomes and implications for future programs.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2014; 46: 259-276
        • Reicks M.
        • Kocher M.
        • Reeder J.
        Impact of cooking and home food preparation interventions among adults: a systematic review (2011–2016).
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2018; 50: 148-172.e1
        • Hasan B.
        • Thompson W.G.
        • Almasri J.
        • et al.
        The effect of culinary interventions (cooking classes) on dietary intake and behavioral change: a systematic review and evidence map.
        BMC Nutr. 2019; 5: 29
        • Wolfson J.A.
        • Lahne J.
        • Raj M.
        • Insolera N.
        • Lavelle F.
        • Dean M.
        Food agency in the United States: associations with cooking behavior and dietary intake.
        Nutrients. 2020; 12: 877
        • Horning M.L.
        • Fulkerson J.A.
        • Friend S.E.
        • Story M.
        Reasons parents buy prepackaged, processed meals: it is more complicated than “I don’t have time.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2017; 49: 60-61
        • Neumark-Sztainer D.
        • MacLehose R.
        • Loth K.
        • Fulkerson J.A.
        • Eisenberg M.E.
        • Berge J.
        What’s for dinner? Types of food served at family dinner differ across parent and family characteristics.
        Public Health Nutr. 2014; 17: 145-155
        • Robson S.M.
        • Stough C.O.
        • Stark L.J.
        The impact of a pilot cooking intervention for parent-child dyads on the consumption of foods prepared away from home.
        Appetite. 2016; 99: 177-184
        • Horning M.L.
        • Schow R.
        • Friend S.E.
        • Loth K.
        • Neumark-Sztainer D.
        • Fulkerson J.A.
        Family dinner frequency interacts with dinnertime context in associations with child and parent BMI outcomes.
        J Fam Psychol. 2017; 31: 945-951
        • Couch S.C.
        • Glanz K.
        • Zhou C.
        • Sallis J.F.
        • Saelens B.E.
        Home food environment in relation to children’s diet quality and weight status.
        J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014; 114: 1569-1579.e1
        • Fulkerson J.A.
        • Telke S.
        • Larson N.
        • Berge J.
        • Sherwood N.E.
        • Neumark-Sztainer D.
        A healthful home food environment: is it possible amidst household chaos and parental stress?.
        Appetite. 2019; 142: 104391
        • Fulkerson J.A.
        • Horning M.L.
        • Barr-Anderson D.J.
        • et al.
        Universal childhood obesity prevention in a rural community: study design, methods and baseline participant characteristics of the NU-HOME randomized controlled trial.
        Contemp Clin Trials. 2021; 100: 106160
        • Harris P.A.
        • Taylor R.
        • Thielke R.
        • Payne J.
        • Gonzalez N.
        • Conde J.G.
        Research electronic data capture (REDCap)—a metadata-driven methodology and workflow process for providing translational research informatics support.
        J Biomed Inform. 2009; 42: 377-381
        • Fulkerson J.A.
        • Nelson M.C.
        • Lytle L.
        • Moe S.
        • Heitzler C.
        • Pasch K.E.
        The validation of a home food inventory.
        Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2008; 10: 1-10
        • Fulkerson J.A.
        • Lytle L.
        • Story M.
        • Moe S.
        • Samuelson A.
        • Weymiller A.
        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. 2012; 9: 10
        • Tate A.
        • Trofholz A.
        • Miner M.
        • Berge J.
        How many days are needed to characterize the healthfulness of a typical dinner meal in direct observational research?.
        JMIR Pediatr Parent. 2021; 4e22541
        • Storfer-Isser A.
        • Musher-Eizenman D.
        Measuring parent time scarcity and fatigue as barriers to meal planning and preparation: quantitative scale development.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2013; 45: 176-182
        • Beshara M.
        • Hutchinson A.
        • Wilson C.
        Preparing meals under time stress. The experience of working mothers.
        Appetite. 2010; 55: 695-700
        • Fiese B.H.
        • Kline C.A.
        Development of the Family Ritual Questionnaire: initial reliability and validation studies.
        J Fam Psychol. 1993; 6: 290-299
        • Matheny A.P.
        • Wachs T.D.
        • Ludwig J.L.
        • Phillips K.
        Bringing order out of chaos: psychometric characteristics of the confusion, hubbub, and order scale.
        J Appl Dev Psychol. 1995; 16: 429-444
      2. Food assistance. Updated April 15, 2021. Accessed June 1, 2021.

      3. Government benefits. Updated May 24, 2021. Accessed June 1, 2021.

        • Social Security Administration
        Supplemental security income. Published 2021.
        Date accessed: June 1, 2021
        • Minnesota Department of Human Services
        Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP).
      4. US Dept of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. U.S. Household Food Security Survey Module: Six-Item Short Form September.
      5. SAS [computer software].Version 9.4. SAS Institute Inc, Cary, NC2020
        • Flattum C.
        • Draxten M.
        • Horning M.L.
        • et al.
        HOME Plus: program design and implementation of a family-focused, community-based intervention to promote the frequency and healthfulness of family meals, reduce children’s sedentary behavior, and prevent obesity.
        Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2015; 12: 53
        • McIntosh W.A.
        • Kubena K.S.
        • Tolle G.
        • Dean W.R.
        • Jan J.
        • Anding J.
        Mothers and meals. The effects of mothers’ meal planning and shopping motivations on children’s participation in family meals.
        Appetite. 2010; 55: 623-628
        • Dallacker M.
        • Hertwig R.
        • Mata J.
        Quality matters: a meta-analysis on components of healthy family meals.
        Health Psychol. 2019; 38: 1137-1149


      M. L. Horning is a registered nurse, a certified public health nurse, and an associate professor, School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      S. Friend is a NU-HOME project coordinator, School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      J. Lee is a registered nurse and an assistant professor, School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      C. Flattum is division program manager, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      J. A. Fulkerson is a professor, Cora Meidl Siehl Endowed Chair in Nursing Research, an affiliate professor, School of Public Health, director, Center for Child & Family Health Promotion Research, and director, Clinical Translational Science Institute Translational Research and Career Training TL1 Program Program and Translational Research Development Program, School of Nursing, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.