Additionally, having fruits and vegetables available in bite-size pieces would have made it easier for children to eat during the extra time, the researchers said.
The extra serving was about 100 grams – 2/3 cup – or the equivalent of a medium apple, according to the study. In this experiment, the extra 10 minutes was a 50% increase over the usual 20 minutes participants typically spent at dinner, the researchers said.
“We need to consider new ways to extend family meals in a way that everyone benefits, and then snack on their extra fruits and vegetables for the extra time,” said study co-author Jutta Mata, professor of health psychology at the University of Mannheim and research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. The research, a collaboration between the two institutions, appears in JAMA Network Open.
This increase in the consumption of nutritious foods could have “a substantial impact on public health,” Mata said. A low consumption of fruits and vegetables increases the risk of diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
“This study helps to counter the myth that children don’t like fruits and vegetables,” said Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who was not involved in the study. research. “Children are perfectly happy to eat fruits and vegetables.”
Longer meals led to healthier eating
The new study builds on previous research by the authors, who assessed dozens of previous studies to determine what factors steer children toward healthier foods at family dinners.
Turning off the TV, modeling healthy diets for parents, offering high-quality food including children in the kitchen and serving, creating a “positive” climate, and adding time to mealtimes helped, according to the analysis.
Meal duration had the strongest effect. But “it wasn’t clear if increasing family mealtimes really had an effect on healthy eating or if that effect was actually due to something else,” Mata said.
The current study, conducted between November 2016 and May 2017, focused only on the impact of overtime.
Fifty parent-child “dyads” – one child, one parent – with children aged 6 to 11, ate two meals a week in a “neutral and friendly” room with a table, two chairs, food and the video equipment in the ceiling that focused on each of the two participants, Mata said.
They weren’t told the exact purpose of the study, only that the researchers were interested in “a better understanding of family meals,” Mata said.
They ate typical German dishes consisting of sliced bread, cold meats and cheeses, as well as vegetable and fruit bites. Dessert was either chocolate pudding or fruit yogurt and cookies. The children also had water and a sweet drink.
Each family ate dinner under both conditions – 20 minutes and 30 minutes – and the researchers compared the experiences within each family. “The only thing that was different between the two lab meals was the duration,” Mata said.
The participants were unaware of the specific intent of the study, so the researchers did not tell them how long they should eat. Instead, at the start of each meal, they only told attendees when they would bring dessert, making jet lag less noticeable.
Ease of bites
Small bites may have made eating the healthiest foods easier, but time was the key factor in eating more, the researchers found.
The children did not eat any extra bread or cold cuts during extended meals, just fruits and vegetables. Bite-sized pieces may have made these foods more appealing to children, but they only ate more of them during longer meals, Mata said. The meat and cheese were not cut.
“One way to think about it is that eating healthy is the result of opportunities to do so,” she said. The researchers created these opportunities in the study. They provided time and food, including fruits and vegetables in an easy-to-eat form.
The researchers pointed out that “bite-sized fruits and vegetables as part of longer family meals increases fruit and vegetable intake,” and they stressed the importance of eating together for longer. It’s unclear whether “sitting a child alone at a table for 10 more minutes would increase their fruit and vegetable intake,” Mata said.
Interestingly, the children ate additional vegetables at the start of the meal and additional fruit towards the end. Scientists speculate that children may have viewed vegetables as part of the main course and fruit more as a dessert.
Results may differ outside the laboratory. “We don’t know how long this effect might last at the family meal table,” Mata said. Additionally, “the mealtime atmosphere in the lab was very positive, which may not always be the case outside the lab,” she said.
Promote healthy eating
Girls and boys ages 4 to 8 need 1 to 1½ cups of fruit and 1½ cups of vegetables daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Girls and boys between 9 and 13 years old need 1½ cups of fruit; girls 9 to 13 should eat 2 cups of vegetables a day, and boys this age need 2½ cups, according to the CDC.
In the study, children who ate more fruits and vegetables at dinner ate about 350 grams in total, or four servings, Mata said. In apples, that equals about 2⅓ cups, she said.
“Research points to a very usable and practical way for parents to encourage healthy eating with their children,” said Anne Fishel, founder and executive director of the Family Dinner Project, a Harvard-based group that aims to promote healthy and the social life. benefits of family dinner time.
Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health at the University of Connecticut, said the study findings underscore the need to develop healthy eating habits early.
“How you eat as a child lays the foundation for how you eat throughout life,” said Schwartz, who is also not part of the study. “This study supports the idea that spending time together and enjoying a meal together will definitely have a nutritional impact, along with many other positive effects.”
Plus, “a longer meal time can give the brain more time to realize the body is full,” said Donald Hensrud, nutrition and weight management specialist at the Mayo Clinic; he was also not part of the study. “More volume of vegetables and fruits may promote increased satiety,” causing children to eat smaller amounts of less healthy foods, he said.
How to improve meals
Research has shown that regular family dinners are good for the brain, body and mental health of young people and adults. Other studies have shown that longer school meal times encourage children to eat healthier foods and waste less food.
However, not everyone can extend meal times. The pressures of busy schedules, conflicting shifts, homework and extracurricular activities make this difficult. Still, if families can get longer meals, it’s worth it, Mata said.
Fishel suggested several ways to liven up meals.
- Parents can play games with the young ones and let the more anxious have “restless” toys at the table.
- Children can help cook, serve and clean up.
- Prepare vegetables in a way children like. For example, roast them so they are not slimy, or dice or grate them.
- And don’t hold back on dessert if they resist the healthy stuff. It only makes vegetables less desirable and desserts even more, she said.
“When the atmosphere is pleasant, relaxing and playful, children will want to stay longer,” she said. “If everyone is having a good time, an extended dinner can be its own reward.”
Do you have a question about healthy eating? E-mail EatingLab@washpost.com and we may answer your question in a future column.
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