One or two family meals a week may help kids eat more fruits and vegetables, a new study suggests.
In the U.K. study, children whose families always ate meals together consumed 4.4 ounces (1.5 portions) more fruits and vegetables a day compared with children whose families never ate together.
And kids who had family meals just once or twice a week consumed 3.4 ounces (1.2 portions) more produce a day.
"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," said study researcher Meaghan Christian, of the University of Leeds.
Family meals may provide an opportunity for children to learn healthy eating habits from their parents or siblings, and are also an incentive to plan meals, the researchers said.
Cutting fruits and vegetables into smaller pieces also appeared to increase consumption. Children ate half a portion more of fruits and vegetables (1.4 ounces) if their parents said they always cut up these foods.
The majority of children in the United States, Europe and Australia don't consume the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables (five servings a day), the researchers said. [See 10 Ways to Promote Kids' Healthy Eating Habits].
Previous research has shown that children who dine with their families are less likely to be obese and more likely to eat healthy foods.
The new study's findings are based on information from 2,000 elementary school children in London, with an average age of 8. Parents answered questions about their child's food consumption over the last day, as well as how often the family ate meals together. Sixty-three percent of the kids did not eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Because the results are based on parents' reports of their kids' food intake, they may be subject to bias, the researchers noted. Parents may overreport the amount of fruits and vegetables their child eats because a healthy diet is socially desirable. But the parents of children in the study did watch a DVD to learn how to properly report their child's food intake, the researchers said.
The study is published today (Dec. 19) in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.