• Researchers tried to understand the effect of longer family meals on kids' fruit and veggie intake
  • Kids ate more fruits and veggies when family meals lasted 10 minutes longer
  • They didn't eat more of the other foods like desserts

Parents trying to get their kids to eat more fruits and vegetables may want to try a simple trick: extend meal time at least by 10 minutes.

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, but it isn't always easy to get kids to eat them. In a study, which was published in JAMA Network Open, researchers looked at whether having longer family meals could actually have an impact on kids' fruit and vegetable intake.

"Family meals are a formative learning environment that shapes children's food choices and preferences," the researchers wrote. "As such, they are an ideal setting for efforts to improve children's nutritional health."

Children worldwide consume "considerably less" than the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, they said.

The team conducted a clinical trial that involved 50 parent-children pairs. The children were 6 to 11 years old, with an average age of eight years old, while the parents had an average age of 43, according to the University of Mannheim.

The study was conducted from November 2016 to May 2017 in a family meal laboratory, wherein the families were served a typical German dinner consisting of sliced bread, cheese, cold cuts and bite-sized pieces of fruits and vegetables. The table was cleared at the end of the meal and they were offered a dessert of chocolate pudding, fruit yogurt or cookies.

All participants underwent two conditions: the regular family mealtime duration and a longer duration (about 10 minutes more than their regular mealtime duration — about 30 minutes in total).

Researchers found the children actually ate "significantly more" fruits and vegetables in the longer-duration meals, consuming about 100 grams more (seven more pieces) of fruits and vegetables on average. This corresponds to one portion, which may be significant as an additional daily portion is said to reduce cardiometabolic disease risk by 6 to 7%.

The additional intake was "specific to fruits and vegetables." Intake of other foods, including desserts, did not increase during longer family meals.

It's possibly because the fruits and veggies were already sliced into bite-sized pieces, the researchers explained.

"In this new experimental study, we were able to prove a formerly only correlative relationship," said study author Ralph Hertwig, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

"Inconvenience or friction may explain why children did not consume more of the main components, such as bread or cheese, during longer meals; grabbing a bite-sized piece of fruit seemed more convenient than topping a slice of bread with cheese," researchers wrote.

In addition, the kids also had increased satiety and lower risks of obesity. This could be because their increased satiety reduced snacking between meals.

Overall, the results show a simple move of making meals just a few minutes longer may actually help improve children's eating behavior. Parents who wish to make this change should choose mealtimes wisely, for instance, avoid meals like breakfast wherein the family members are rushing, the researchers suggested. Or perhaps they could let children choose the music to play in the background.

"The effect of family meal duration on children's intake of fruits and vegetables requires the availability of fruits and vegetables on the table," they wrote. "If the effects of this simple, inexpensive, and low-threshold intervention prove stable over time, it could contribute to addressing a major public health problem."

Strawberries, children, Fruits, Meal, Food
Representation. StockSnap/Pixabay