Family meals can boost kids' fruit and vegetable intake: study

One easy way to ensure your kids get their share of vegetables and fruits: eat together as family. Dining as a family -- even once or twice a week -- can boost your child's intake of healthy foods, according to researchers from the University of Leeds in the UK.

The study of 2,389 British primary school-aged children also found that kids ate more fruits and vegetables when their parents ate them as well. Another way to bolster a child's daily intake: cut up portions for them, according to the research.

On average, kids who always ate a family meal together at a table consumed 125g (1.5 portions) more fruit and vegetables 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. Still, the study found that 63 percent of children come up short on their recommended amount of five portions (400g) a day.

"Even if it's just one family meal a week, when children eat together with parents or older siblings they learn about eating," says lead researcher Dr. Janet Cade. "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."

Children whose parents always or sometimes cut up fruit and vegetables for them consumed, on average, half a portion (40g) and a quarter of a portion more than children of parents who never cut up their fruit and vegetables.

Findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

A separate study finds that US children and teens consume more calories and soda when they eat out at restaurants, fast-food or otherwise, as compared to meals at home. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the calorie intake and diet of nearly 9,000 children using a long-term study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Findings were published last month in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Access the study: http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2012/12/11/jech-2012-201604.short?g=w_jech_ahead_tab

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