Healthier eating for kids is just a matter of time

2 minute read

An extra 10 minutes at the table can make a difference.

Your Back Page correspondent is one of the generation of children for whom mealtimes frequently resembled a warzone.

The rules of engagement were simple: children were not to leave the table until all the food on the plate was eaten. The children begged to differ. 

Once evocations of “the starving children in Africa” had failed to encourage to consumption, tensions would escalate to include threats of sanctions and the even more dire consequences that might ensue. 

It was not as if the food offerings were particularly repellent. My father, being a keen gardener, meant there was a plentiful supply of genuinely fresh and organic vegetables on the plate. It’s just that those vegetables were invariably everything a child hates to eat, such as silverbeet, cabbage and parsnips. 

If nothing else, these daily conflicts helped hone a capacity for negotiation, dissemblance and deception – core skills for a future career in journalism. 

As it transpires, the “sit there until you are finished” regimen brought other benefits as well. 

A study published this month in JAMA Network Open shows that a child’s fruit and vegetable intake can be increased significantly by an additional 10-minute stay at the table. 

The study, conducted in Berlin, involved 50 pairs of parents and their children, with an equal number of boys and girls with an average age of eight years. 

The participants were served a standard German dinner, which included sliced bread, cold cuts and cheese, as well as bite-sized fruits and vegetables. 

For a total half-hour of mealtime, the average consumption increased by about 100g, equivalent to one of the five recommended daily portions of fruits and vegetables. 

Importantly, the longer family meals did not result in increased consumption of bread, cold cuts, or dessert among the children. 

The key to this healthier outcome, according to the researchers, was to make sure there were an adequate and easily accessible amounts of fruits and vegetables on the table, preferably cut into bite-sized pieces. 

And if that doesn’t work, threats of TV bans and the brandishing of a wooden spoon can also be effective. 

Feeding news morsels to guarantees a nutritionally balanced diet.

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