Young children who eat the same meals as their parents are far more likely to have healthier diets than those who don’t, according to a recent study looking at the lives of thousands of kids across Scotland. Beyond the UK, the concept of a family sit-down meal is often far from the norm in modern busy societies across America and Australia. However, the study finds that it isn’t where or with whom you eat that’s important when it comes to the dietary health of youngsters, but eating the same meals as the rest of the family.
On a relationship level, family meals are a positive way to bond and socialize. However, the harsh reality is that for many people, family meals can be quite stressful, not an experience that is looked forward to or relished. In the Scottish study, a quarter of participants revealed that they rarely if ever enjoyed mealtimes together, and a fifth reported that they never really had time for drawn out or chatty mealtimes.
What impacts children’s diets
Even if family meals are not quite as enjoyable as they should be, it seems that this does not mean that children necessarily have unhealthy diets. The University of Edinburgh study which looked at 2000 five-year-olds, concluded that other mealtime habits, beyond eating the same food, were less likely to have a negative impact on a child’s diet. These included:
- Not eating a main meal in the day or at regular times
- Regular snacking between meals
- Not eating at the dining table
- Stressful shared mealtimes
Convenience with busy lives
It is perhaps a reflection of the modern world that most families eat not only at different times but different meals. We have less time and more demands on it. So it is often easier to heat up a separate meal for children who are coming and going than to prepare a large family meal and expect everyone to sit down at the same time. Stressed and busy parents often take the path of least resistance with their children too. It is often easier to give your child something you will know they’ll eat than to spend 40 minutes insisting they finish all their vegetables.
Eating the same meals
Valeria Skafida, research fellow and the study author explains: “Offering separate ‘children’s food’ for a main meal often results in children missing out nutritionally. It is likely that in cases where children eat different foods, they are eating a less nutritious option. This is already known to be the case with kids menus in restaurants, so children are best off eating the same foods as their parents.”
Parents trying to offer the best
Often the reason parents offer children a different diet option is to try and give their kids a healthier, more child-friendly meal plan. Parents might concoct a meal plan that avoids high-fat and high-sodium dishes, to give youngsters a more nutritious start. However, the study suggests that often diet recommendations for children are written expecting “parents to monitor nutritional targets in an unrealistic and impractical way.”
Lead by example
One thing that’s certain is that having a healthy diet as an adult is the best way forward if you want your children to follow. If you lead by example and share healthy meals with the rest of the family your children will pick up your habits and have a much healthier attitude about food and eating.
Do you need a diet and nutrition overhaul? Is it time you changed the way you eat and what you eat? Do you need help with a plan?