Compared to Pre-prepared Meals, Fully and Partly Home-Cooked Meals in Diverse Families with Young Children Are More Likely to Include Nutritious Ingredients

Angela R Fertig, Katie A Loth, Amanda C Trofholz, Allan D Tate, Michael Miner, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Jerica M Berge
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2019 February 11

BACKGROUND: Interest in initiatives that promote home cooking has been increasing, but no studies have examined whether home cooking is associated with dietary quality using longitudinal data on meals served in a diverse sample of families.

OBJECTIVE: The present study examined data on multiple meals per family in diverse households to determine whether home-cooked meals are more likely to contain nutritious ingredients than pre-prepared meals.

DESIGN: Data for the study came from the National Institutes of Health-funded Family Matters Study. As part of this study, between 2015 and 2016, 150 families provided ecological momentary assessment data on 3,935 meals over an 8-day observation window.

PARTICIPANTS/SETTING: In this study, investigators followed 150 families with children aged 5 to 7 years old from six racial/ethnic groups (n=25 each non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, Hispanic, Native American, Hmong, and Somali families). Recruitment occurred through primary care clinics serving low-income populations in Minnesota.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The main outcomes were participants' self-reports of whether they served fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at a meal, and reports were made within hours of the meal.

STATISTICAL ANALYSES PERFORMED: Within-group estimator methods were used to estimate the associations between meal preparation and types of food served. These models held constant time-invariant characteristics of families and adjusted for whether the meal was breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack and whether it was a weekend meal.

RESULTS: For all racial/ethnic and poverty status groups, meals that were fully or partly home-cooked were more likely to contain fruits and vegetables than pre-prepared meals (P<0.001). Meals that were partly home-cooked were the most likely to contain whole grains (P<0.001). Restaurant meals were more likely to contain vegetables than pre-prepared meals (P<0.001) but were equally likely to contain fruits and/or whole grains as pre-prepared meals.

CONCLUSIONS: Interventions or initiatives that encourage fully or partly home-cooked meals may help families incorporate nutritious foods into their diets. In addition, evaluations of potential strategies to increase the likelihood of supplementing pre-prepared and restaurant meals with nutritious meal ingredients warrants further investigation.

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