Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day helps to keep both kids and parents healthy. Unfortunately, many kids do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. A recent study funded by the National Institute for Health Research sought to examine the factors that influence what children eat, particularly the effect of families eating meals together.
The study looked at the diets of over 2000 primary school students across England, who were eight years of age on average. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire about the food that their children ate. Parents also completed a home food diary that kept track of how often the family ate meals together, as well as the parents’ level of fruit and vegetable consumption.
The results of the study found that children ate, on average, about 3.7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Children who ate together with their family frequently ate more than those whose families did not eat together – 125 grams more a day. The parents’ diet also had an effect on their children’s fruit and vegetable consumption. Children whose parents ate daily portions of fruits and vegetables ate 88 grams more a day than those whose parents ate little or no produce.
Finally, this study showed that ease of accessibility has an impact on children’s fruit and vegetable consumption. Parents who cut up fruits and vegetables for their kids had children whose consumption was 44 grams more than parents who did not.
Encouraging Kids to Eat Healthy
Eating dinner with your kids is a great way to encourage them to eat in a healthful way. Unfortunately, simply eating with you children does not guarantee that they will eat the food that is put in front of them. If your children tend to be picky eaters, you may have to implement some different strategies to make sure they get the nutrients they need. Here are a few ways to help your kids to eat better.
• Do Not Serve Special Orders – It can be tempting to cook your children a different dinner than what you are having. However, giving them their own food sends the message that they do not need to eat the same things as adults do. Serve your kids the same things that you serve yourself.
• Give Them Dips – Vegetable snacks are nutritious but not always the most fun. Try experimenting with different dips to encourage your kids to eat more vegetables. Hummus, salsa, and ranch dressing are all tasty dips that can make vegetables a little more interesting.
• Let Them Help – Kids who help to choose or prepare the foods they eat are usually more interested in eating. Bring them to the store and have them pick out produce or other healthy snacks. Older kids can help cut up vegetables or spread peanut butter on fruit slices.
• Do Not Rush In – Many kids are cautious when introduced to new foods. Try not to be demanding when they first try something new. Encourage them to take a bite or two but do not insist they eat a full serving. A child will need to be exposed to a new food several times before deciding if they like it or not.
• Have a Few Treats – Kids will be more willing to eat healthy food if they are given treats now and again. Having special snacks like cookies, chips, or fast food is alright in limited quantities. Set a good example for your kids by only indulging in these foods every now and then.
• Have Fun – If family dinners are a boring, stuffy affair your kids will not be as receptive to new foods. Take the chance to talk about the foods you are eating. Come up with fun names for different vegetables or make pictures with fruit on your plate. When your kids are having fun they will be more willing to try new things. They may even grow to look forward to dinner time.
This recent study is good news for parents and for kids. Janet Cade, the supervisor of the study, says "Even if it’s just one family meal a week, when children eat together with parents or older siblings they learn about eating." Just a little bit of time set aside for family dinners can have a huge impact on your children’s health.