Study results suggest that eating as little as one or two meals together as a family per week can significantly improve the amount of fruit and vegetables that children consume on a regular basis.
"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 study author Meaghan Christian (University of Leeds, UK) in a press statement.
As reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the researchers collected information about the dietary habits of 2389 school children, aged 8.3 years on average, who attend 52 primary schools in London. The information was collected using the Child And Diet Evaluation Tool (CADET), a validated 24-hour food tick list designed for children.
They found that 63% of the children questioned did not consume five portions (400g) of fruit and vegetables a day. The average consumption level was 3.7 portions (293 g) a day.
However, children who always ate a family meal together at a table consumed 1.5 portions (125 g) more of fruit and vegetables per day on average than those who never ate a meal together. Even children who only ate together once or twice a week consumed 1.2 portions (95 g) more of fruit and vegetables per day than those who never ate together.
Other factors that had a significant influence on intake were cutting up fruits and vegetables for children and frequent parental consumption of fruit and vegetables. The team found that children whose parents always cut up their fruit and vegetables ate half a portion more (44 g) of fruit and vegetables per day than those who did not. Similarly, children of parents who consumed daily fruit and vegetables ate one portion (88 g) a day more than those whose parents did not.
"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," said study co-author Janet Cade, also from the University of Leeds.
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