Are you an always, a sometimes or a never?
I’m talking, of course, about sitting at the table to eat as a family.
On the day of their study, they found that children whose families said they always ate together round a table ate five portions of fruit and veg. Those whose families said they sometimes did almost got their 5-a-day, reaching 4.6 portions, while children whose families who said they never ate together at a table got to 3.3 portions. Read a good summary on BBC News.
It’s food for thought, and it’s an effect that we see time and time again in our work: children learn from our eating and cooking habits as adults, whether that’s as their parents or carers, childminders or nursery nurses, teachers, cooks, lunchtime supervisors and all sorts of others who work with children in the community from youth clubs, to Guide and Scout groups.
In fact, eating with others of any age often has a great ‘peer effect’ for encouraging them to try new things and eat healthier foods. It’s the principle behind all of the work to improve food at school. Children may turn up their noses at a particular vegetable, but if it’s in a dish that their friends have all got on their plates that day they are more likely to give it a go. We asked parents about this in a survey back in 2010, and 80% of those in our study said their children had tried foods in school that they never eat at home. Many of those foods were types of fruit and veg.
But it’s not just in the eating. Improving kids’ fruit and veg intake is about cooking, too. Research from our Let’s Get Cooking programme – which helps people of all ages improve their diet by learning to cook, and has created more than 5,000 cooking clubs all over the country – found that more than half of those who take part (58%) said they ate a healthier diet after learning to cook, and 92% use their new skills again back at home. A smaller study with very young club members as part of the research found that learning to cook may improve recognition of healthier foods, particularly bananas, tomatoes and peas, for four to eight year olds. And using food in play is one of our biggest tips for early years settings in our nationally-recognised guidelines for healthy food and drink for under-fives.
So if you’ve got a fussy eater in your house, or if your kids are getting nowhere near five portions of fruit and veg in a day, there are two things to put on your New Year’s resolutions list:
Eat together and get them cooking!
- Find tips on how nurseries can use mealtimes and food in play to get young children into good fruit and veg habits.
- Find tips on how schools support fussy eaters here
- Find lots of tips and recipes on cooking with children from Let’s Get Cooking
- Like our Take Two at School page on Facebook – our campaign to help parents and cooks to encourage children to eat at least two of their 5-a-day at school
Tricia’s our Senior Research and Nutrition Manager. Email Tricia.