This study describes the development and validation of an instrument to assess the types of foods served at home for the evening meal. The screener was developed to include a full range of foods that may be served at meals, particularly the evening meal, and a variety of healthful and unhealthful preparation methods. Study findings indicate the screening instrument has substantial criterion validity, and the checklist-type format was easily completed by participants in their homes.
The new screening instrument demonstrated criterion validity with moderate to high kappa values between participants' and staffs' reports of foods served at meals in the home and significant correlations between their scale scores regarding foods from the five major food groups and the healthfulness of foods. These findings and the fact that participants easily completed the screener suggests this tool can be used to effectively assess the types of foods served at meals. Costs and time associated with data collection in research studies could be reduced since participants are able to complete the screener in their own homes without research staff.
The Five Food Group and Healthfulness scales and most of the food categories showed substantial criterion validity; however, two comparisons resulted in kappas of less than 0.60. The general question of whether or not other starches were served had only moderate criterion validity. A detailed examination of these data indicates that staff were more likely to code "other starch" as present compared to participants. Perhaps the term "starch" is less commonly known among the general public even though pasta, noodles, potatoes, rice, and pizza dough were listed as examples. More research is needed in this area to assess how best to describe starchy carbohydrates on surveys. The suboptimal agreement between staff and participants regarding preparation method for vegetables resulted from the greater likelihood of staff reports of frying vegetables compared to participant reports. It may be that participants only recognize frying in deep fat as "frying." Future versions of the screener may separate out frying from sautéing to help increase validity.
The high average validity indices for added fats for vegetables and bread suggest that the screening instrument may be useful for studies interested in reducing butter and sauces as a form of weight control or to reduce cholesterol. In addition, the ease of completion with regard to time (participants completed the form as they prepared the meal) and convenience and the low cost of the data collection are great assets of this tool for population-based studies, particularly those promoting healthful foods such as salads, fresh vegetables, fruit for dessert, and milk consumption. Furthermore, although the screener was developed to assess the evening meal, further testing should be completed to evaluate its use for breakfast or lunch meals made at home.
To interpret the findings of this study, several issues warrant discussion. Study participants were self-selected volunteers and may not represent the general population in terms of motivation to complete the instrument and the types of meals prepared. In fact, some adults participated in several validation studies conducted by the research team, perhaps indicating a highly motivated group that may have been more conscientious in completing the screener, although none of our data or anecdotal evidence support this bias. Although the authors carefully considered many food varieties and those from different cultures, the screener may not capture all foods served at home meals and all methods of preparation (e.g., microwave cooking of protein) used by some families. Mixed dishes that contained many ingredients (e.g., soups) were more difficult to code on the instrument; however, problems were lessened when specific instructions were added during screener development. The instrument also includes additional "other" spaces for coding that could be used for foods common to a particular population. In addition, the screener does not assess the quantity of foods served at meals since participants either check "yes" or "no." However, our measure of a wide variety of different types of foods served at meals is similar to the variety score of the Healthy Eating Index  and may be linked to better diet quality. Our aim was to create a brief screener and keep response burden to a minimum. Attempting to collect data on more foods, quantities of foods, or more specifics about foods such as brand names would have compromised our aim. Lastly, the screener does not measure what was eaten at other eating occasions or at meals, only what was served at mealtime. In addition, the screener was designed to assess foods that are prepared in the home, limiting its utility for meals that are purchased elsewhere (i.e., takeout) but eaten in the home. Future research is needed to address the present study's limitations.