Eating Practices at Home: Parents’ Perception

family meal

Encouraging healthy eating practices at home provides a model for children that instills long term healthy eating behaviors.

In the fall of 2012, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health collaborated with National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to examine the challenges related to eating and exercise, that children and parents face during post school hours. In the study, parents where polled about their children regarding: challenges to healthy weight, perceptions of exercise, and food consumption and family dinner practices.

According to the parents, the primary barriers to developing healthy eating practices are parental approval of unhealthy snacks and availability of unhealthy foods in homes. Other barriers include convenience, time restrictions, and financial limitations. Parents also believe that children are affected by other influences such as advertisements for unhealthy foods and availability of unhealthy foods in school lunchrooms.  

The results of the poll show that, “the proportion of families who are eating together has not changed much in more than 20 years, but the family dinner itself may not be a shared meal around the kitchen table today.”  Instead the poll found that about 40% of those families that eat together do not sit together at a table, but instead gather around the TV or sit in a living room. Also, in just under half of those shared meals, the child is eating different foods than the parent. Technological distractions such as TV or cell phones also affected the home eating environment. In addition, many parents encouraged eating habits such as cleaning the plate (25%) or limiting choices of food and drink, (45%) which experts have found can cause unhealthy eating behaviors like overeating. Furthermore, research cited in the poll suggests that shared meals eaten at the table without distractions are correlated with lower obesity rates in children.

Three quarters of parents believe that their child is of healthy weight, while only about fifteen percent believe that their child is overweight . However, national data reveals that over thirty percent of children in the US are overweight. This disconnect raises many questions about perceptions of healthy weight and how these perceptions affect children at home.


Katherine Baildon, Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs 


“A Poll About Children and Weight.” National Public Radio.