A Review of the Structural Characteristics of Family Meals with Children in the United States1,2

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Abstract

Family meals are associated with a range of positive outcomes among children and adolescents. There is inconsistency, however, in the way in which studies have defined and measured family meals. Therefore, a systematic review of the literature was conducted to determine how studies describe family meals with the use of structural characteristics. The current review focused on studies in the United States that included children ages 2–18 y. A total of 33 studies were identified that characterized family meals with the use of ≥1 of the following structural features: frequency or mean number of family meals per week, length of family meal, people present at meal, and where meals occurred. No study characterized family meals by using all 4 family meal features, whereas most studies (81%) characterized family meals by using frequency or mean number of meals per week. Findings not only provide an initial understanding of the structural features used to define family meals but also point to the importance of developing a more comprehensive, sensitive assessment that can accurately capture the complex and multidimensional nature of family meals.

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