Can the duration of the meal play a role?
Researchers from the University of Mannheim and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin set up an experiment with 50 pairs of parents and children. The average age of children in the study was 8 years and the parents were 43 on average. An equal number of boys and girls participated in the study.
First, parents completed an online preassessment together with their children at home. Then, they were invited to the laboratory for two evening meals.
- For the first dinner, each parent and child were given the same amount of time they reported in the questionnaire to finish the meal.
- For the second dinner, they were given 50% more time than their reported regular mealtime duration.
The participants were served a typical German dinner with sliced bread, cold cuts, and cheese, as well as fruits and vegetables cut into bite-sized pieces. At the end of the meal, the table was cleared and participants were offered a dessert of chocolate pudding or fruit yogurt and cookies. Water and 1 sugar-sweetened beverage were provided throughout the meal. All foods and beverages served reflected the child’s preferences reported in the questionnaire.
“The duration of the meal is one of the central components of a family meal which parents can vary to improve the diet of their children. We had already found hints of this relation in a meta-analysis on studies looking at the qualitative components of healthy family meals. In this new experimental study, we were able to prove a formerly only correlative relationship,” said Ralph Hertwig, co-author of the study.
The longer the meal time the more veggies were eaten
The experiment shows that children will eat significantly more fruits and vegetables if they stay at the dinner table for 10 minutes longer, 30 minutes in total. On average, the kids in this experiment ate about 100 grams more fruits and vegetables, by weight this could be a small apple or a bell pepper. This represents about 1 of the 5 recommended daily portions of fruits and vegetables.
“This outcome has practical importance for public health because one additional daily portion of fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of cardiometabolic disease by 6-7 %. For such an effect, a sufficient quantity of fruits and vegetables must be available on the table, bite-sized pieces are best,” explained Jutta Mata, a co-author of the study.
How about desserts and side dishes?
It seems likely that a longer time at the table would make the kids eat more of other foods too. But the study shows that longer family meals did not lead to the children eating more bread, cold cuts, or dessert. Researchers speculated that the bite-sized pieces of fruits and vegetables were easier to eat and more enticing.
How about you? Would you eat more veggies and fruits under these conditions? And more importantly, are you willing to prepare and lay out enough fruit and veg on the table?