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Eat meals as a family to improve your child's diet

Published on 21/12/2012

Eating meals as a family helps children get their recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day, according to a new study.

Government recommends eating a minimum of 5 a day

The new study looked at just under 2,400 children at 52 primary schools in south London to find out how family mealtimes affect children’s eating habits.

Parents and fieldworkers created food diaries at school and at home and ticked off all the foods and drinks a child had in one 24-hour period.

Parents were also asked questions about their attitude to fruit and vegetables, for example "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?"

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that 656 families said they always ate meals together at a table. 768 said they sometimes did, but 92 families never did.

Researchers found that children in the “always” group ate five portions of fruit and veg, compared with 4.6 in the “sometimes” group and 3.3 in the “never”. In total, the “always” group ate 125g more fruit and veg a day than the “never” group, and the “sometimes” group ate 95g more a day.

Meaghan Christian, who conducted the study as part of her PhD, said: "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."

Study authors concluded that intake of fruit and veg was boosted when children saw their parents eating it with them.

Professor Janet Cade, of the University of Leeds' school of food science and nutrition, who supervised the study, said: "Watching the way their parents or siblings eat and the different types of food they eat is pivotal in creating children's own food habits and preferences."

She added: "Since dietary habits are established in childhood, the importance of promoting the family meal needs to be more prominent in public health campaigns."

The government recommends that everyone eats a minimum of five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Portion sizes can be hard to visualise, but the Department of Health says that the following constitutes a single portion:

  • One handful of blackberries
  • Two spears of broccoli
  • One medium onion
  • 14 button mushrooms
  • Two handfuls of fresh raspberries
  • One medium tomato or seven cherry tomatoes

If you need motivation for eating your five-a-day, you may benefit from medical insurance policy like PruHealth’s Vitality Scheme. PruHealth customers collect 10 Nectar points for every £1 spent on healthy food in Sainsbury’s, from a list of over 1,500 products. Customers are also awarded 1 Vitality point for every £2 spent. The more Vitality points collected, the bigger the rewards, with get discounts on things like cinema tickets and Caribbean cruises.

© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012

Categories:  Health
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