Parents spend a lot of time and energy trying to get their children to eat more veggies. They also have less and less time, what with the pressures of modern life, to actually get this done. The number and variety of games parents and children play to eat another carrot or ‘a single bite of broccoli, please’ demonstrates a startling creativity in parents and an impressive drive for their children’s health. This study offers a surprisingly simple solution to improving children’s fruit and veggie intake, simply staying at the table 10 more minutes.
While researchers tirelessly work to understand the nutrition needs of humans from infancy to the end of life, knowledge of what is best does not automatically lead to better health for the population. Knowing that a veggie is better than a cookie does not mean that one chooses the veggie over the chocolate chips. For adults, they can at least reason a little better on average with their more developed frontal lobes where logic rules. For children, preferences and desires may more easily overrule the knowledge of nutritional content.
Parents are left with sticks or carrots, figuratively and too possibly literally (carrot sticks being a thing). They can attempt to force children to eat that lone broccoli on the plate with some effort at times, but it can be exhausting and repetitive and time-consuming. They can attempt bribes or they can test their cooking skills in making the health food taste as delicious as the dessert. While not all parents face as much frustration as others, for those with picky eaters, worries can build whether or not the child is getting the right nutrition.
This study proved that simplicity can sometimes overcome such complexities. By extending mealtimes for a set of German families from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, the children ate on average 1 more serving of fruits and/or veggies. While this may not be guaranteed for all children, this one extra serving on average correlates with a 6 to 7 % decrease of cardiometabolic risk. This means potentially 6 to 7 % less diabetes, strokes, hypertension, fatty liver, and heart disease. In contrast, children did not eat more desserts during this time. Not a bad return on investment for 10 minutes a day.
In a hurried world, many families find mealtime very rushed and hectic. Meals may even be eaten in a car seat or in much less than a 20-minute span on the way to the next event. This study reminds us that the simple act of slowing down and sitting with our children for an extra few minutes can give them healthier, more abundant lives.
Mattea Dallacker, Vanessa Knobl, Ralph Hertwig, Jutta Mata. Effect of Longer Family Meals on Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Intake. JAMA Network Open, 2023; 6 (4): e236331 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.6331
Thanks to Science Daily:
Max Planck Institute for Human Development. “How to get your children to eat more fruits and vegetables: Study examines influence of longer family meals on children’s eating behavior.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/04/230418101408.htm>.
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