Study: Family Meals may Help Increase Child’s Fruit and Vegetable Intake

13973959_s“Eat your vegetables.” We heard it as children and now we tell our own children the very same thing. Often, that request is met with a sour face or ignored altogether, but a recent study suggests that parents CAN get their children to eat more fruits and vegetables. Ironically, we can do it without bargaining, threatening or bribing. In fact, we can do it without uttering a single word.

In a study that examined how the home environment and parental attitudes and values, researchers collected data on 2,389 children from 52 primary schools in the Greater London area through the use of a School Food Diary and a Home Food Diary. In those diaries, parents were asked questions like, “on average, how many nights a week does your family eat at a table?” and “do you cut up fruit and vegetables for your child to eat.”

According to the study, which was published in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, children ate more fruits and vegetables than their peers if their parents ate fruits and vegetables regularly, cut up fruits and vegetables for their children, and/or shared family meals at a table with their kids.

Parents who said they eat fruits and vegetables daily had children who ate one portion more than children who’s parents said they never or rarely at fruits and vegetables. Parents who said they always cut up fruits and vegetables for their children had kids who at a half a portion more each day than children who never did, and even if parents only did it occasionally, their kids at a quarter of a portion more.

But what seemed to have the biggest impact on child fruit and vegetable consumption was family meals. Children who always ate with their family at a table consumed an average of 1.5 more portions of fruit and vegetables than children who never meals with their families. And while the researchers recognized that family meals are difficult to arrange, they stress that even one or two a week can improve the fruit and vegetable consumption of children. In fact, even just one or two meals a week increased a child’s fruit and vegetable consumption by 1.2 portions per day.

“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,” senior author Janet Cade, a professor in the University of Leeds School of Food Science and Nutrition told Medical News Today. “They (family meals) provide conversational time for families, incentives to plan a meal, and an ideal environment for parents to model good manners and behavior.”

“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,” first author Meaghan Christian told Medical News Today.

But the study also indicated that parents need to model the type of diet they want their children to eat. (Remember, parents who ate fruits and vegetables daily had kids who at one more portion per day.) This can be a bit of a problem since the May 2012 World Cancer Research Fund poll indicated that only 1 in 5 adults eat the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Maybe we, as parents, need a little reminder as to why fruits and vegetables are so important.

Fruits and vegetables are extremely important for a healthy diet. A June 2012 BMJ study indicated that individuals who consume a Mediterranean type diet (mostly fruits and vegetables) are less likely to suffer from heart attacks, less likely to develop certain types of cancers and more likely to live longer. Other studies have also linked a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables to better overall health and a lower risk of obesity.

For my own family, the journey into eating more fruits and vegetables has been a long one. We eradicated meat from our diet (for the most part) nearly three years ago. When we go out to eat, the kids are allowed to eat whatever they want. But while at home, our diet consists mostly of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes (beans, lentils, etc.) It was a long, painstaking process. We started by adding extra vegetables to a casserole or by blending up vegetables to go into dishes, like spaghetti. Little by little, vegetables started making their way into more of our foods – in tiny pieces at first and gradually getting bigger – until we were serving a few meatless meals per week. Now I never cook meat at home. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I bought it.

Obviously, you don’t have to go meatless, but for both parents and kids, it often takes a lot of practice, persistence and patience to increase daily fruit and vegetable consumption. So if things aren’t going quite like you planned or if you or your children happen to not like a particular fruit or vegetable, try it again in a week or so. Maybe try something a little more creative or something sneaky (my kids will DEVOUR a spinach smoothie, despite the fact that they still hate spinach!). But most importantly, be patient and stick with it!

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About the author


Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done.

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