The facts of family mealtime – Is it really beneficial?

Family mealtime is a tradition where everyone gathers for dinner over discussions of the day. But how beneficial is it to our health and wellbeing? Questioning the importance of family mealtime has sparked the interest of researchers from the Caring Futures Institute at Flinders University.

Lead Researcher, Georgia Middleton, seeks to identify whether the idea of the family mealtime is viable for all families, considering the absence of evidence to show for its health and well-being rewards.

This has resulted in the study: “What can families gain from the family meal? A mixed-papers systematic review”, by Georgia Middleton, Professor Rebecca Golley, Doctor Karen Patterson, Fairley Le Moa and Professor John Coveney.

For those experiencing the fast-paced hustle and bustle of everyday life, complying to the deep-rooted social tradition surrounding mealtime can be difficult, forcing families to live up to unnecessary expectations. Through further research Georgia hopes to identify ideal family eating habits to establish a meal model for family lifestyles.

“Our aim is to find what is the most beneficial meal model, in ways that maximise nutrition and health, enjoyment and engagement, adaptability and efficiency,” says Georgia, a PhD candidate at Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

“At the moment, there are many people trying to chase the ideal of the family meal model that might be introducing yet more pressures to family life.”

Georgia is calling for participant involvement in research that will determine how families eat in diverse Adelaide suburbs, targeting the areas surrounding Ferryden Park in the west, and Burnside in the east.

Participants in the new study will be reimbursed for their time with an $80 gift voucher and the chance to win one of six Sprout Cooking School ‘Quick. Easy. Healthy’ cookbooks. Details can be found here.

“We are currently looking for families, with at least one child aged 12 years or under living at home, to participate in a virtual interview to discuss their current experiences with the family meal, and the work involved in bringing the family together for the family meal today,” Georgia says.

The lack of evidence supporting the benefits of family mealtime does not mean that family mealtime is bad for health and wellbeing or that families should be discouraged from participating in social mealtimes.

“More work is needed in this area to better understand the relationship between family members and meals, especially if we are to continue promoting the family meal as a health and wellbeing strategy for families,” she says.

Georgia has not been able to establish whether health changes can be attributed to mealtime traditions or behaviour within family settings.

“We need to develop more nuanced and specific measurements of the family meal, so we can ensure effectiveness and impact of the family meal on health and wellbeing is being adequately captured and assessed,” says Georgia. “The new research will help develop strategies that are achievable and sustainable for families.”

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