A new study from the School of Public Health offers effective ways parents can encourage their kids to eat more fruits and vegetables outside of family meals.
The research was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and used data from Project EAT 2010, a study of roughly 2,800 diverse adolescents in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area in 2009-2010.
“Studies suggest that having meals as a family increases the intake of fruit and vegetables for adolescents, but we know that’s not a regular option for all families,” says lead author and post-doctoral fellow Allison Watts. “We wanted to find out if there are other more realistic ways for busy parents to ensure their kids eat a healthy diet.”
The findings suggest that the following methods were associated with higher intake of fruits and vegetables in adolescents:
- Home availability: Frequency of fruit and vegetables being available at home.
- Home accessibility: Frequency of fruit being left on the counter, table or somewhere kids could easily get it; having cut-up vegetables in the fridge.
- Parent modeling: Parents eating fruits and vegetables with their meals.
- Parent encouragement: Parents encouraging their children to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.
“This supports the idea that parents can incorporate these practices into their lifestyle to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables their kids are eating, even if they can’t sit down at the table as a family every night,” says Watts. “This provides an alternative option for the busy, modern family lifestyles that exist today.”
The study also found that fruit and vegetable intake was the highest in adolescents who were exposed to both healthful parenting practices and regular family meals. However, this was only the case if parents utilized the healthful practices. When families sat down for dinner together, but did not utilize the healthful practices, there was no difference in fruit and vegetable intake.
“So certainly, if families can sit down for dinner together, and incorporate those healthy eating practices, they should. That will give parents the best chance at ensuring their kids will consume more fruit and vegetables,” says Watts. “We just want parents to know that if they can’t find time to sit down with the family for meals, there are still other ways to ensure their kids get enough fruits and vegetables.”