Eating meals together as a family, even if only once or twice a week, increases children's daily fruit and vegetable intake to near the recommended 5 servings per day, according to research from the University of Leeds.
The study of 2,389 primary school-aged children also suggests parental consumption of fruit and vegetables and cutting up portions of these foods boosted children's intake. It is published today in the British Medical Journal's Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Overall, this study found that 63% of children did not consume the World Health Organization's recommended five portions (400g) of fruit and vegetables (combined) 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," said the researchers.
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.
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.
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