Struggling to get children to eat their fruit and vegetables at mealtimes?
Extending meal times by as little as 10 minutes significantly increases the amount of fruit and vegetables children eat according to a study by researchers from the Max Planck Institute.
Children ate 2.4 more pieces of fruit and 3.7 additional veggies, when the length of the meal time was extended by 50% (on average 10 minutes more at the table), according to the study published in JAMA Network.
Researchers conducted an experiment involving 50 parent-child groups.
After completing an initial assessment – about demographics, family mealtime and food preferences – the participants were invited to two free evening meals at the laboratory.
In one of those meals, participants ate the food according to their regular meal duration. In the other they had 50% more time to eat (10 minutes more on average). The order in which they completed the two meals was randomised and participants were unaware the study was related to mealtime duration.
“Participants were served a typical German evening meal of sliced bread, cold cuts of cheese and meat, and bite-sized pieces of fruits and vegetables. At the end of the meal, the table was cleared and participants were offered a dessert of chocolate pudding or fruit yogurt and cookies,” the study details.
The paper says the proportion of time spent communicating did not differ between the two experiments.
In the longer mealtime children increased the number of fruits and vegetables they ate, even though their consumption of other foods did not differ significantly.
With ten minutes more at the table, children also reported feeling more full, despite eating a similar amount of calories
The study says strategies for extending family meal times could include choosing the meal most likely to succeed, accommodating children’s preferences, and setting transparent rules. Changing habits takes time, the researchers add.
The findings are similar to a previous study showing extending school lunch time similarly increased fruit and vegetable intake.
The research was designed to test meta-analyses suggesting longer mealtimes as being the most beneficial factor in improving nutritional health in children.
The outcomes are significant for public health given children worldwide do not meet the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables.