Parent's Work Conditions Impact Family Food Choices


Does your work schedule affect how you feed your family? You leave work late and have no time to cook, so you hit the drive-thru on the way to your child’s ball game. If you worked fewer hours would you have cooked dinner?

Carol M. Devine, PhD, RD, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, and colleagues looked at how parents work conditions affect the family food choices. The study published in the September/October issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggest that better work conditions may be associated with more positive strategies for family meals. These positive strategies include more home-prepared meals, eating with the family, keeping healthful food at work, and less meal skipping.

The researchers measured food choice coping strategies in low- to middle-income families in five categories: (1) food prepared at/away from home; (2) missing meals; (3) individualizing meals (family eats differently, separately, or together); (4) speeding up to save time; and (5) planning.


The researchers then used a three-part telephone survey of 25 employed mothers and 25 employed fathers or guardians from 3 racial/ethnic groups to evaluate food choice strategies. Half or more of respondents admitted to either sometimes or often using 12 of 22 food choice coping strategies.

The researchers found clear gender differences in the use of these strategies. Fathers who worked long hours or had nonstandard hours and schedules were more likely to use take-out meals, miss family meals, purchase prepared entrees, and eat while working. Mothers purchased restaurant meals or prepared entrees or missed breakfast.

Job security, satisfaction, and food access were also associated with gender-specific strategies. Approximately 25% of mothers and fathers reported not having access to healthful, reasonably priced, and/or good-tasting food at or near work.

Long work hours and irregular schedules mean more time away from family, less time for household food work, difficulty in maintaining a regular meal pattern, and less opportunity to participate in family meals.

“Work Conditions and the Food Choice Coping Strategies of Employed Parents”: Carol M. Devine, PhD, RD; Tracy J. Farrell, MS; Christine E. Blake, PhD, RD; Margaret Jastran, RD; Elaine Wethington, PhD; and Carole A. Bisogni, PhD.; Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 41, Issue 5, (September/October 2009)


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