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

Amanda C. Trofholz, Allan D. Tate, Michelle L. Draxten, Seth S. Rowley, Anna K. Schulte, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Richard F. MacLehose, Jerica M. Berge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations


Background 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. Objective 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. Design Direct observational, cross-sectional study. Participants/setting 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. Results 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. Conclusions 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-109
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017



  • Diet quality
  • Direct observation
  • Family meals
  • Food availability
  • Meal screener

Cite this