Eat with kids to boost their fruit and veg intake
Eating meals together as a family, even once or twice a week, increases children’s daily fruit and vegetable intake, according to researchers at the University of Leeds.
The study of primary school-aged children also suggested parental consumption of fruit and vegetables and cutting up portions of these foods boosted children’s intake.
Overall, researchers found that 63 per cent of children did not consume the World Health Organisation recommended amount of five portions (400g) a day. Children who always ate a family meal together at a table consumed 125g (1.5 portions) more fruit and vegetables on average than children who never ate with their families. Even those who reported eating together only once or twice a week consumed 95g (1.2 portions) more than those who never ate together.
“Even if it’s just one family meal a week, when children eat together with parents or older siblings they learn about eating. Watching the way their parents or siblings eat and the different types of food they eat is pivotal in creating their own food habits and preferences,” Professor Janet Cade, who supervised the study, said in a statement.
In families where parents reported eating fruit and vegetables every day, children had on average one portion (80g) more than children whose parents never or rarely ate fruit and vegetables.
“Modern life often prevents the whole family from sitting round the dinner table, but this research shows that even just Sunday lunch round the table can help improve the diets of our families,” said researcher Meaghan Christian.
Children whose parents always or sometimes cut up fruit and vegetables for them consumed, on average, half a portion (40g) and quarter of a portion more, respectively, than children of parents who never cut up their fruit and vegetables. “There are more benefits to having a family meal together than just the family’s health. They provide conversational time for families, incentives to plan a meal, and an ideal environment for parents to model good manners and behaviour,” added Cade.
“Since dietary habits are established in childhood, the importance of promoting the family meal needs to be more prominent in public health campaigns. Future work could be aimed at improving parental intake or encouraging parents to cut up or buy snack-sized fruit and vegetables,” Christian said. The study was published in the British Medical Journal’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.