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Written by: Kristen DiFilippo, PhD, RDN

Sitting down for a family meal is one of my favorite things. I cherish the time spent with good food learning about the ups and downs of each person’s day, being goofy, or sharing struggles. As life gets busy with work and kids’ activities, finding times for family meals can become difficult. However, research shows that family mealtimes are worth prioritizing.

Benefits of family mealtimes

Research links family mealtimes with numerous benefits. When thinking of family meals, nutrition outcomes are often considered. Sharing and prioritizing family meals has been associated with improved nutrition outcomes; however, this impact seems to be linked to what is served as fast food consumption is correlated with decreased nutrition outcomes (Snuggs & Harvey, 2023).

In addition to nutrition outcomes, increased frequency of family meals is associated with improved health. The number of family meals each week has been associated with a lower likelihood of obesity in youth (Ardakani et al., 2023; Glanz et al., 2021; Snuggs & Harvey, 2023). There is also a decrease in disordered eating as family mealtimes increase (Snuggs & Harvey, 2023).

The benefits extend to other areas as well. Family meals have been associated with decreased risk behaviors, including tobacco and alcohol use, violence, and illicit drug use (Snuggs & Harvey, 2023). Family meals are also associated with decreased rates of depression and suicidal ideation in youth (Snuggs & Harvey, 2023). Some research shows an association between family meals and academic outcomes, although the research is less consistent, and some studies only find the association for girls.

Recommendations to give to families about mealtimes.

Research shows that the increased frequency of family meals is associated with younger children in the home, dual-parent families, and higher socioeconomic status (Snuggs & Harvey, 2023). While anyone with a child in the home should be encouraged to provide frequent family meals, extra care should be taken to support families who are less likely to have frequent family meals.

Specific recommendations beyond just increasing the number of family meals include the following:

  1. Encourage families to eat meals at home. In most studies, reductions in obesity are observed as mealtime frequency increases, as well as when meals are consumed at home and in a positive mealtime environment (Snuggs & Harvey, 2023).
  2. Encourage families to turn off screens during family mealtimes. The nutrition benefits of family mealtimes can be negated if the TV is on. However, if this is not possible, some research shows that regular mealtimes with TV are better than infrequent meals (Snuggs & Harvey, 2023).
  3. Encourage positive mealtime interactions. Positive mealtimes are associated with reductions in obesity, while a negative eating environment is correlated with an increase in disordered eating behaviors (Snuggs & Harvey, 2023).

Increasing the frequency of family mealtimes has the potential to improve the nutrition and well-being of health of children and youth. Health practitioners should ask about the number of meals families have each week and encourage regular, positive family mealtimes. Special care should be taken to work with those who cannot regularly sit down together to eat to identify strategies for overcoming barriers to family meals.


Ardakani, A., Monroe-Lord, L., Wakefield, D., & Castor, C. (2023). Parenting Styles, Food Parenting Practices, Family Meals, and Weight Status of African American Families. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 20 (2), 1382.

Glanz, K., Metcalfe, J. J., Folta, S. C., Brown, A., & Fiese, B. (2021). Diet and Health Benefits Associated with In-Home Eating and Sharing Meals at Home: A Systematic Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(4), 1577.

Snuggs, S., & Harvey, K. (2023). Family Mealtimes: A Systematic Umbrella Review of Characteristics, Correlates, Outcomes and Interventions. Nutrients, 15(13), 2841.


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