If you have resolved to become a healthier eater in 2017, buying, preparing, and eating more vegetables and fruits might be a good place to start. But will that motivation to eat healthier foods transfer to the rest of the family — especially young children? We have discovered previously on The PediaBlog that eating together as a family improves nutrition and helps prevent overweight and obesity. We also know that family meals improve relationships between children and their parents and are associated with lower levels of substance abuse and stress in teenagers who attend family dinners at least three times a week. But for some families, together-time at the dinner table is a fantasy:
Yes, sometimes it’s not possible to eat together all the time — a parent works late (or has a second job); a child has a practice or a game; a parent acts as a short-order cook, preparing different meals for different, picky children so no one sits and eats together. There are lots of reasons why we won’t have a perfect dinnertime attendance record. But as I always say: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
Fortunately, there are other practices parents can use to improve the consumption of fruits and vegetables even when it’s every man/woman/child for him-/herself. While a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics confirms that family meals are associated with higher fruit and vegetable consumption, the researchers also found that keeping fruit and veggies cut up and easy to reach on kitchen countertops or displayed prominently on refrigerator shelves improves consumption even more — by half a serving a day. Lisa Rapaport says there is one thing the study reveals doesn’t work:
How parents communicated with kids and talked about food was no longer a factor in fruit and vegetable consumption after researchers controlled for the frequency of family meals and other parenting practices.
Fighting with kids at mealtime about what they are or aren’t eating is really a waste of energy and time and won’t work, as most parents have learned from their own experiences and from reading PediaBlogs past. Framing food choices in a positive light, especially during family meals, is much more… fruitful:
“I think this study offers some hope that there may be some more subtle things that parents can do that matter – such as delegating one of your children to cut up fruits and vegetables so they are easily accessible in the fridge or making packaged fruits and vegetables available on the counter,” said Nancy Zucker, director of the center for eating disorders at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
“Finding simple ways for families to eat healthier without adding to their stress, particularly in families already low on resources, is critical…”
Influencing food habits for teenagers presents a unique and sometimes difficult challenge for parents. We’ll consider one additional strategy for them tomorrow.