Impact of Healthy Meal Kits on the Home Food Environment of Families with Low Income

Nidhi Patel

Authors:  Nidhi Patel, Karla Shelnutt, PhD, RD, Lauren Sweeney, MS, RDN, Kaley Mialki, MS, RDN

Faculty Mentor:  Karla Shelnutt, PhD, RD

College:  College of Agricultural and Life Sciences


As 68% of calories are consumed at home, the home food environment (HFE) plays an important role in food choices. The objective of this study was to determine the impact of a healthy meal kit intervention on the HFE of African American (AA) caregivers with low income. Participants received weekly meal kits for six weeks that included ingredients and recipes to cook three meals. An HFE survey was used to assess grocery shopping and cooking practices, eating and screen viewing habits, and social support at baseline and post intervention. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were used to assess changes. Participants elaborated on the impact the meal kits had on their ability to cook and eat healthy meals post intervention, which were coded using thematic analysis. Participants (n=36) reported a significant decrease in eating while screen viewing after the intervention (p=.048). Grocery shopping, cooking practices, and social support were unchanged. Most participants (86%) stated that the whole family was involved in preparing the meals and that meal kits positively affected family mealtime (58%). Meal kits provide caregivers of families with low income with resources they need to prepare healthy meals, which may provide opportunities for family bonding and reduced screen time while eating.

Poster Pitch

Click the video below to view the student's poster pitch.


Click the image to enlarge.
23 Responses
  1. Karen Sem

    I liked your presentation! Your delivery was very clear.
    From the results of this project, what changes do you plan to make in the methods and design of the larger-scale study?
    Also, from your results it seems like the meal kits are a good tool to introduce families into preparing healthier meals. Has any work in academia or food industry gone into making the meal kits more affordable for families to encourage this trend?

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey Karen!

      For our larger- scale study we hope to involve more of the participants’ family like their kids and see how the meal kits impact them. The interviews we conducted for this study showed that a lot of kids were actively involved in helping to make meals as well as enjoying the meals. Personally, I have come across a variety of new meal kits services that are more affordable. However, many of them are only offered locally and do not include cooking tools. As a result, these may be limitations to a quality meal kit service.

  2. Brittany Blake

    Hi Nidhi,

    Your study is very interesting to me especially since in general low income families in rural areas general report food insecurity and lacking nutrition counseling/education resources as major barriers. You mentioned that you measured self-efficacy in your participants. What did you exactly measure about their self-efficacy? And do you have any specific ideas for future research.

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey Brittany!

      I completely agree on the fact that low income families face major barriers when it comes to food availability and nutrition education/counseling. To address your question on how we measured self-efficacy in our participants, we did this using a variety of questions in the home food environment survey (HFE). A section of this survey assessed food preparation self-efficacy and asked the participants to indicate to what extent did they feel confident about performing basic food preparation skills like cooking from basic ingredients or following a recipe. The responses were scored on a 5-point Likert scale with 1 reflecting not at all confident and 5 reflecting extremely confident. In the future we would like to expand this study to involve more of the participants’ family so we get a better insight to how meal kits can affect family meal time and behavior.

  3. Kaley Mialki

    Hi Nidhi,

    You gave an excellent presentation!

    Why do you think that Eating While Screen Viewing decreased significantly after the intervention?

    The qualitative data provided helpful insights into the impact of the meal kits of family cooking/eating behaviors. How would you explore this aspect of the project quantitatively in a future study?

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey Kaley!

      Thank you so much! From the interviews, the participants mentioned more quality family meal time as the whole family was actively involved in preparing meals and more conversations were happening during meal time. This may have played an important role in decreasing eating while screen viewing as families are more engaged in family meal time than watching tv or having any type of distractions. In the future study I would like to conduct more interviews throughout the study as their responses are valuable in determining the benefits of the meal kits. I would want to extend the interviews to members of the participant’s families as well to get their side of the story.

  4. Elizabeth Estep

    Hello! I really enjoyed your presentation! Quick question – since it seems like there can be vary positive effects on the home food environments of people with food insecurity and/or lower income, is there anything being done to increase the availability or affordability of options like this?

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey Elizabeth!

      Thank you for taking the time to read about my research! I have come across a variety of new mea kit services that are more affordable and available to smaller communities. One change that is being implemented now is that some meal kits are available to be purchased using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars. This may help many low income families who currently use this federal program for food assistance.

  5. Sydnee Berman

    Hi Nidhi,

    I think your presentation was great, and I cannot wait to see what more we learn with a larger scale project!

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey Sydnee!!

      Thank you for your feedback! I am excited to work with you more in the future 🙂

  6. Marina Curtis

    I’m particularly interested in access to fresh food, so I was wondering if food deserts could have played a role in the insignificant change in grocery shopping habits? It might be too speculative, but maybe they wanted to change grocery habits, and then couldn’t easily access a place with cost-effective, healthy ingredients.

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey Marina,

      This is a very good point! I personally think that a potential reason for the insignificant change in grocery shopping habits is due to the location and access of quality food items at grocery stores. Low- income families have limited access to quality food products and when they are healthy or of better quality they tend to be more expensive. This happens to be a major barrier for these families.

  7. John Carriglio

    Really interesting study. You did a good job of getting a large sample size, which is tough for a project like this.

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey John!

      Thank you for taking the time and reading about my research, I appreciate the feedback!

  8. Karla Shelnutt

    Hi, Nidhi-

    Loved your presentation and love having you on our research team! My question is related to your mixed methods approach for this abstract. What was the benefit of using both quantitative and qualitative data collection for your research?

    Dr. Shelnutt

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey Dr. Shelnutt!

      Thank you so much and I love working with this team! I think the quantitative data is important in determining significant change as a result of the meal kits. However, qualitative data from interviews can give a better understanding about the participant’s experience, behavior, and opinions. Interviews are more personal and can allow any participant in a study to feel more comfortable in sharing their thoughts and experience.

  9. Jamie Zeldman

    Hi Nidhi,
    Your presentation and poster were presented in a clear, concise manner- great job! Because the families were receiving 3 meals/week, I would have imagined the grocery shopping frequency to have significantly reduced. Why do you think it did not? Additionally, do you feel the length of the intervention impacted the results?

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey Jamie!

      Thank you so much for the positive feedback! I was also pretty surprised that their grocery shopping frequency did not significantly reduce. However, many of these participants have children or have other members of their family living in their household, When you combine this with the fact that normally people eat an average of three meals a day, it makes sense that the participants still continue to shop normally for food products. It might be more interesting to look at if the types of food products they bey change through out the study. I do think that 6 weeks is a good amount of time to instill some type of change in eating habits for the participants.

  10. Sara Sutton

    Hi Nidhi, what an interesting project! I was wondering if you have any ideas about whether a meal kit vs. a pre-made meal would have a more positive impact on a family?

    1. Nidhi Patel

      Hey Sara!

      Thank you for your feedback! As a result of this study I noticed that the behavior surrounding family meal time changed when the families were given the opportunity to cook together as a family. I think cooking together as a family is a positive way families can bond and discuss more about healthy eating habits and practices, this is why I do believe that meals kits are more beneficial than a pre-made meal.