U of I research suggests eating as a family is important and a challenge


Urbana, Ill. (WCIA)

When it comes to the health and wellbeing of children and adults, family meal times are important. But making sure that happens each week isn’t always easy.

New research from University of Illinois shows that focusing on improving food access or improving skills in meal preparation and organization may be less effective if done in isolation.

“If we are going to improve the health of children and families, effectively addressing family mealtimes will require some attention,” says Allen Barton, who led the study. “But in thinking about this issue we need to avoid overly simplistic answers and consider more holistic approaches to solutions.”

Researchers at U of I’s Family Resiliency Center studied and profiled more than 500 families with elementary school-aged children throughout the state.

The first group of families was characterized as food secure and having high levels of household organization. The second group reported food insecurity and low levels of organization. The third group had food security levels that ranged between the other groups, with household chaos similar to food secure families.

In these profiles, families in the second group reported fewer weekly meals together, fewer homecooked meals, and more screen time during meals. Barton says these behaviors correlate with less healthy food consumption and outcomes.

But there were some similarities between the three groups. All families were equally likely to shop at big box stores, grocery stores, and discount stores. And challenges such as coming up with meal ideas and dealing with picky eaters were common in families across the board.

“We need to understand risk is multifaceted, so we should avoid myopic answers and solutions. We need to address food insecurity. We also need to help individuals increase their confidence in preparing meals as well as building routines, predictability, and organization into life in the home,” Barton states.


For families facing food insecurity, Illinois Extension has created a resource called Find Food IL, which provides localized information for access to food. For families with children, the Family Resiliency Center offers help with family routines and other strategies for building resilience, as well as a series of videos on mealtime challenges and a collection of healthy meal recipes.

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