Research has long extolled the virtues of eating together as a family -- it's been linked with benefits for the kids ranging from healthy weight, to improved performance in school, to a decreased risk of substance abuse. And now, a new study suggests it could also make a difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables children eat -- even if you only have time to get together once a week.
The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, shows that kids who eat together with their family consume more portions of produce than those whose families don't share meals together.
"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," study researcher Meaghan Christian, who conducted the study as part of her Ph.D. research at the University of Leeds, said in a statement.
The study included 2,389 elementary-school age kids who attended 52 different schools throughout the United Kingdom. Their diets were analyzed by recording what they ate in food diaries for both home and school.
Researchers found that 63 percent of the kids in the study didn't eat the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables every day. However, the kids who ate together with their families ate more portions of produce each day than those who didn't.
Specifically, compared with the kids who never ate together with their family, those who always ate with their families ate 1.5 more portions of fruits and vegetables. And those who ate with their families just once a week still ate 1.2 more portions of fruits.
Researchers also found a link between fruit and vegetable intake among the kids and how the produce was presented on the plate. If parents cut up their fruits and vegetables, the kids ate about a half-portion more of fruit and a quarter-portion more of vegetables, compared with kids whose parents didn't cut up their food.