While lasting only twenty minutes, on average, family mealtimes are embedded in a social, cultural, and economic context that are associated with a variety of indicators of children’s health and wellbeing. Shared family mealtimes have been associated with such diverse outcomes as reduced risk for substance abuse, promotion of language development, academic achievement, and reduced risk for pediatric obesity. This social policy report provides a brief overview of current research suggesting that frequency of family mealtimes, family climate during shared mealtimes, environmental and policy influences on family food choice are related directly and indirectly to children’s health and wellbeing.
The report is divided into five sections. The first addresses frequency effects of shared family mealtimes and relations to child health and wellbeing indicators. The second section addresses family climate during shared family mealtimes. This section examines the role that family interaction patterns, dining in or outside the home, and the effects of having
the television on during mealtimes plays in relation to child outcomes of interest. The third section addresses parents as gatekeepers of the family table. This section considers the role of food marketing and parent versus child decision making about food in relation to shared mealtimes. The fourth section examines briefly the topic of food accessibility including food insecurity and time scarcity and associated influences on family mealtimes. The final section concludes with six policy recommendations for decision makers and community opinion leaders.