We explore the quantity (frequency) and quality (priority, atmosphere, structure) of family mealtimes and associations with nutritional and emotional health in Jamaica. Urban adolescents (N = 330, M = 13.8 years, SD = 1.8, 64% girls) and their mothers (M = 41.4 years, SD = 7.8) completed questionnaires. On average, mothers reported having family meals 3–4 times/week and mealtime quality, but not quantity, was associated with health. Correlations revealed that mothers ate more unhealthily if they watched more TV during meals, and actor-partner independence modeling showed that high SES adolescents ate more unhealthily if their mothers had more difficulty finding time for family meals (and vice versa: partner interaction). Additionally, adolescents and mothers were more psychologically distressed if they themselves had more difficulty finding time for family meals, if they had less positive attitudes/behaviors around mealtime atmosphere (actor effects), or if they were high SES individuals placing lower importance on mealtimes (actor interaction). Overall, however many weekly meals Jamaican families are able to share together, what's important is to make those mealtimes count as quality time. Leisurely family meals with enjoyable conversation uninterrupted by television, such as the age-old Jamaican tradition of “Sunday Dinner”, may nourish both body and soul.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Data collection for this research project was funded in part by an International Seed Grant from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of ACES, Office of International Program. Manuscript preparation was funded by the Christopher Family Foundation Food and Family Program at the Family Resiliency Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the National Council on Family Relations, Orlando, Florida. We thank the participating families and schools for their kind collaboration, and gratefully acknowledge Henna Muzaffar, Maria Iturbide, and research assistants for assistance with measure selection, data collection, and data entry.
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- Family mealtimes