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Keywords:

  • childhood;
  • nutrition;
  • families;
  • Bourdieu;
  • quantitative methods

Abstract

The general consensus in the research to date is that family meals are linked to healthier eating habits in children, compared to not eating with the family. Yet, few studies explore what it is about commensality which leads to better food choices among children. Using a representative Scottish sample of five-year-old children, this research explores the extent to which family meal occurrence, meal patterns regarding where, when and with whom children eat and perceived meal enjoyment predict the quality of children’s diets after controlling for indicators of maternal capital that influence both meal rituals and taste preferences. Eating the same food as parents is the aspect of family meals most strongly linked to better diets in children, highlighting the detrimental effect in the rise of ‘children’s food’. Although theoretical and empirical work pointed to the important health advantage in children eating together with parents, the results suggested that eating together was a far less important aspect of family meals. In evaluating the importance of the family meal, this article redirects attention away from issues of form and function towards issues of food choice. Policy implications and the importance for public health to recognise the way eating habits are defined by and reproduce social and cultural capital are discussed.