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No More Kids’ Meals: Children Who Eat the Same Meals as Adults Have Better Diets

Update Date: Apr 25, 2013 12:20 PM EDT

It is commonly stated that family meals help maintain positive eating habits among children. However, a recent study debunks that long-held finding. Instead, Valeria Skafida from the Center for Research on Families and Relationships says that it is less important with whom children eat and it is more important what they eat. Her study found that children who ate the same meals as adults tended to have superior eating habits.

Many young children do not like to eat the same food as adults. These picky eaters have qualms about eating everything from carrots to quinoa. For many parents, the easy solution is to simply fix a child's alternative to the meal that the adults are eating; in fact, 29 percent of children involved in the study never or only sometimes ate the same meal as their parents. However, the study suggests that these children's meals may do more harm than good. Ms. Skafida found that children who ate separate meals were less likely to eat fruits and vegetables and more likely to consume a great deal of salt.

According to The Herald, the study was conducted by examining the eating habits of 2,332 five-year-old children in Scotland. The children selected for the study were so young because most studies on eating habits had looked at those of older children, for whom eating habits had already been ingrained. The children's diets were analyzed by examining how often the kids ate fruits, vegetables, chips, sweets, soda and whether they snacked between meals.

The study found that eating family meals were less important than what they ate. The researcher found that children who ate the same meals as their parents had diets that were better. She says that kids' meals tend to lack nutritional quality - something that can be reflected in kids' meals in restaurants as well.

"A variety of factors may explain why these meal habits are important," Ms. Skafida writes. "The detrimental effects of frequent snacking could be related to the fact that snacks often involve nutritionally poor foods compared to meals...It could also be that frequent snacking, fewer family meals and less regular meal times, are indicative of poor parental control and a lack of routine and structure in disciplining children. Eating in a room not traditionally associated with the consumption of a meal, such as the living room or a bedroom was linked to poorer dietary quality, but this could be reflective of material poverty, such as living in smaller homes with no designated dining space. It could also be that children who eat in non meal-specific spaces are simultaneously exposed to the TV (e.g. in a living room or bedroom) which in itself is associated with poorer diets in children."

The study was published in the journal Sociology of Health and Illness.

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