According to researchers at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, when participants were asked to recall their food choices from the previous day, only 28 percent of participating parents and caregivers reported meals with adequate amounts of nutrients like Vitamins A and C, protein, calcium and iron.
They measured more than 100 low-income families' eating patterns, and also examined their meals' nutritional value to determine how certain meal patterns could lead to more nutritious diets.
The results showed that many nutritional issues could be tackled if the whole family ate together more often - especially at breakfast time, said Wanda Koszewski, UNL extension associate professor of nutrition and health sciences and the study's lead author.
While a majority of families in the study said they usually gathered for dinner at least five times a week, only 43 percent said that their families ate breakfast together two or fewer times a week; the same percentage held true for lunch.
Researchers said that the more often families ate breakfast together, the better their intake would be with foods from the milk group, fruits and fruit juices, in particular.
"Nutrients we get from these food groups such as calcium, folate, potassium, Vitamin C and Vitamin A are critical in the diets of young children and are often lacking in the diet of limited-income children," Koszewski said.
"Due to the fast-paced lifestyle of many families, not having breakfast together makes it difficult to meet these nutrients later in the day," he added.
The study was published in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal.