enhancing your childs nutrition hdr 1

Enhancing Your Child's Nutrition: The Power of Longer Family Mealtimes

As parents, we strive to provide the best nutrition for our children to ensure that they develop healthy eating habits that will benefit them throughout their lives. While we receive plenty of advice on what’s best for our kids, it’s important to know that these recommendations are supported by scientific evidence. One common belief is that family mealtimes have multiple advantages for children, including improved socialisation, stronger relationships, and potentially better nutrition. But do we really have concrete evidence to support this claim? A recent study conducted in Germany sheds light on this topic, revealing fascinating findings that can benefit both parents and their children.

The study was a randomised controlled trial involving 50 parent–child pairs. It sought to investigate the impact of longer meal times on children’s fruit and vegetable intake. In comparison to regular mealtime lengths, extending mealtime by 50% resulted in increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by the children. Furthermore, the children in the longer mealtime group reported higher feelings of satiety and demonstrated increased water consumption. On average, the mealtime extension was only a mere 10 minutes.

Implications for Families:

For families struggling to encourage their children to consume recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, this study offers a promising low-risk intervention. While the study’s sample size was small, the positive effect observed with longer mealtime durations suggests that families could potentially benefit from this strategy. The key takeaway is that even a brief extension of mealtime, averaging just 10 minutes, can provide significant nutritional advantages. This finding holds practical importance for public health, as consuming an additional daily portion of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cardiometabolic disease by 6% to 7%.

Benefits of Longer Mealtime:

The study specifically found that the increased intake of fruits and vegetables during longer meals did not result in greater consumption of other food items. This reinforces the notion that longer mealtime durations facilitate a slower eating rate, leading to increased satiety and potentially reducing snacking between meals. Additionally, longer family meals create a conducive atmosphere for fostering healthier eating habits, potentially lowering the risk of obesity in children.

Practical Strategies for Implementing Longer Mealtime:

Establishing longer mealtime routines may seem challenging, but there are several strategies that families can employ to make this a successful and enjoyable experience. Firstly, choose a mealtime that is most likely to succeed, avoiding rushed mornings and selecting a time when everyone can gather together. Accommodating children’s preferences, such as playing their favourite music in the background, can make the experience more enjoyable (Party in the U.S.A. being a particular favourite in our kitchen). Transparent rules, such as everyone staying at the table for a certain period, help create structure and consistency. While these strategies may not work every time, habit change requires effort and can be fostered through consistent practice.

Strengths and Limitations:

It’s important to note that the study was conducted in a laboratory setting, which may limit the generalisability of the findings to natural eating environments. The sample used in the study also had limited ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, warranting further exploration in more diverse populations. Additionally, the long-term sustainability of the intervention’s effects remains uncertain and requires further investigation.

The findings of this clinical trial highlight the potential benefits of increasing family mealtime duration by as little as 10 minutes. By incorporating this simple and low-cost intervention, parents can improve their children’s diets and eating behaviours. Establishing new routines may require effort, but the long-term impact on children’s intake of fruits and vegetables can contribute significantly to addressing the major public health concern of poor nutrition. Remember, ensuring the availability of fruits and vegetables on the table is vital for maximising the effects of this intervention.

As parents, let’s embrace the power of longer family mealtimes to nourish our children and cultivate lifelong healthy eating habits. By prioritising these moments together, we can promote not only physical well-being but also strengthen our family bonds.

Dr J Hugh Coyne

Private GP

Parsons Green, Fulham