French-American Differences in Family Meals

Charlotte with research poster




Professor of Psychology

Project Summary

After spending a semester abroad in France, I became interested in how broad cultural differences translate into differences in everyday behaviors. This, combined with a lifelong love of food and cooking, and led me to conduct my Psychology senior thesis on cultural differences in food attitudes and behaviors – specifically, differences between family meals in France and the United States. While differences in food attitudes and behaviors between France and the US had been well-documented in previous research, with important implications for food-related health disparities in these two countries, only a couple of studies had directly compared French and American family meals. As an exploratory study to gather information on what specific differences might exist between family meals in the two countries, my project consisted of a survey administered online to French and American parents which asked detailed questions about mealtimes with their families. Because many studies have suggested a link between more family meals and better overall health, we made sure to gather information on aspects of family meals that could be key to better health (along with differences in food attitudes and behaviors that had previously been shown to differ on a broad scale). While the responses we collected showed less distinction between the mealtimes in each country than originally expected, we found that the more structured and collective French eating model seemed to be reproduced during family meals. For example, French parents were more likely to report children’s involvement and described a greater number of rules surrounding mealtimes. Through this project, I gained hands-on experience in every stage of the research process – from becoming familiar with relevant literature, to formulating a question, to designing and implementing a study, and finally to data analysis and presentation of findings. Apart from learning from the data itself, the process of taking a long-term research project from start to finish gave me a much deeper understanding of all that goes on behind the scenes in conducting human subjects research.