Family meal characteristics in racially/ethnically diverse and immigrant/refugee households by household food security status: A mixed methods study

Amanda C. Trofholz, Allan Tate, Helen Keithahn, Junia N. de Brito, Katie Loth, Angie Fertig, Jerica M. Berge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While there is some research examining frequency of family meals by food insecurity (FI) status, there is little research examining other family meal characteristics (e.g., type of food served at meal, emotional atmosphere) or parent feeding practices by FI status. If food and money is scarce, it may be that the broader family meal environment looks different in families with continuous access to food (food secure, FS) compared to families with FI. Using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) and qualitative data, this study explores meal characteristics and parent feeding practices at nearly 4000 family meals in a low-income, racially/ethnically diverse and immigrant/refugee sample. For 8 days, participants (i.e., parents of 5-7-year-old children) completed a survey every time they shared a meal with their child. Additionally, parents completed a qualitative interview regarding family meals. There were many meal characteristics statistically correlated with a family being FI, including: who prepared the meal and how the meal was prepared, the makeup of people at the meal, the meal location and meal atmosphere, and the food served at the meal. Qualitative data illuminated many of these findings from EMA meal surveys. Quantitatively, families with FI and FS reported similar parent feeding practices during family meals. Qualitatively, families with FI and FS reported differences in (1) parent feeding practices; (2) food served at family meals; (3) challenges to having family meals; and 4) adults' role in the family meal. This study provides suggestions for interventionists working with families, including helping families identify time management strategies, including fruits and vegetables into family meals on a budget, reducing screen time at family meals while improving the meal's emotional atmosphere, and developing positive parent feeding practice strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105000
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research is supported by grant number R01HL126171 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (PI: Berge). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.


  • Ecological momentary assessment
  • Family meals
  • Food insecurity
  • Meal characteristics
  • Mixed-methods
  • Qualitative

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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