Good Eating Habits Made Better without TV

Healthnotes Newswire (April 26, 2007)—Children develop healthy eating habits by dining together with the family—but only if the TV isn’t on, says a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Eating for good health

A healthy diet can help maintain healthy weight and help protect against cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. With childhood obesity and chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease on the rise, it’s important to instill healthy eating habits from the start.

Children choose their foods largely based on what their parents eat, and these early habits predict the types of foods they’ll eat as adults. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that adults eat 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day; children ages one through five should eat 1 to 1 1/2 cups of fruit and 3/4 to 2 cups of vegetables per day. Few people actually eat these amounts, however.

The benefits of the family dinner

The new study looked at the association between television viewing during meals or dining with the family and how many fruits and vegetables children ate. More than 1,300 children under age five from low-income families took part in the study. Their caregivers reported how often they served fruits and vegetables with meals and snacks, how often they ate dinner together as a family, and the number of days each week that the television was on during dinner.

The amount of fruits and vegetables the children ate increased with each night that the family ate dinner together, and decreased with each night that the TV was on. So what about having the TV on while the family eats together? It seems that this combination doesn’t work. “It is apparent that having dinner as a family does not overcome the adverse effects of having the television on during mealtime. Parents should be cautioned that the television should be turned off during mealtimes,” the authors concluded.

How to get kids to eat those fruits and veggies

Many parents struggle with getting their children to eat more fruits and vegetables. Here are some tips that might help

• Keep ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables on hand for snacks. Take baby carrots and sliced apples or pears along on outings, and make a fruit salad to last a couple of days.

• Offer fruits and vegetables before other foods are served.

• Try vegetable juices: carrot, apple, and cucumber is a winning combination.

• Mix sweet potatoes in with white potatoes for healthier mashed potatoes.

• Serve veggies with a dipping sauce or in a stir fry.

• Try adding vegetables like shredded carrots, zucchini, and collards to meatloaf, refried beans, soups, stews, casseroles, or sauces.

• Make fun designs on the plate out of fruits and vegetables that children will want to gobble up.

• Make sure that you set a good example by eating the same healthful foods that you offer to your children.

To give you an idea of serving sizes, 1/2 cup of vegetables is equal to 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy greens, or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice. For fruits, 1/2 cup is equal to 1/2 cup of fresh or frozen fruit, 1 medium fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit, or 1/2 cup fruit juice.

(J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107:666–71)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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