The study examined whether it was the food itself, or the tendency for the children to eat before their parents, and to rush off to do other things.
The study found that whether the children ate with the rest of the family at the same time as parents, was less important than the food itself.
It appears the the widespread development of kids meals, including those offered at restaurants and fast food outlets may be unwittingly condemning kids to poor diets and poor eating habits.
The study concluded that parents also need better guidance on their own eating habits and kids food they prepare for their family.
Having the whole family eat the same foods, together, appears to be a healthier option for the children.
This article reviews the research findings and the conclusions.
Shared Family Meals are Best for Children
About one third of Scottish teenagers are overweight or obese, and the rates are higher than elsewhere in Europe.
There is clear evidence that one major cause of this is related to the children’s diets. Despite parents often preparing
special meals for children, the advice available for parents on what to prepare for 'kid's meals' is generally poor.
Previous research had suggested that preparing family meals that were shared by the children encourages better diets
and eating habits in children. Special kids meals are often inferior nutritionally and are not as balanced. Often this may be the easy way out
because many children are reluctant to eat 'grown-up food’ and so they are give simple foods and lots of snacks and processed food high in sugar and fat.
However there has been few studies done on why family meals and foods are better.
The Scottish study of the diets of 2000 five year old children set out to clarify some of the issues. The focus of the study was to assess the quality of each child’s diet. A standard quality scale was developed using a questionnaire of 9 questions which determined how often children ate crisps, sweets, fruit, vegetables, fizzy drinks. It also depended on whether the children had a balanced and varied diet, and whether children snacked between meals. The analysis then used this quality scale for the 2000 children interviewed to to explore the correlation between the quality of the diet eaten and various aspects of when and where the food was consumed.
frequency of snacking and eating in the bedroom or living room
whether separate kid’s meals were prepared
meal habits such as eating main meals at regular times or other meals
General Findings on What Mattered Most in Terms of the Quality of the Child’s Diet
Whether the mother had more formal education
Whether the child was the first-born
Where meals are considered as enjoyable and a ‘time to talk to each other’
Eating in a dining-designated space
Eating the same food as parents
Having regular meal times
Not snacking much
Eating a main regular meal
What did not Matter Much in terms of the Quality of the Child’s Diet
Being a couple or a single-parent family
Mother’s age, ethnic background or employment status
The child’s gender
Whether the meal times are described as rushed
Eating with the rest of the family or at the same time as parents
Key Findings and Conclsions
The key findings from the study were:
The eldest child in a family generally had healthier diets than the second or third child.
Better educated mothers provided better diets for their children, but diet quality was not always linked with the socio-economic background of families. It was more a matter of the food that was provided. More affluent families provided better meals, but this was not always the case.
When mothers describe the family mealtimes as enjoyable and as opportunities for talk, children has better diets.
Despite the difficulty many parents have with getting kids to eat certain foods, research which has shown that children are more likely to eat certain foods if their parents eat them as well
Children get better quality meals by eating the same food as parents. This applies whether children are their meals with parents or not.
Children who eat their meal in a bedroom or living-room are more likely to have poor diets than those who eat in a dining space or the kitchen.
Eating at the same time as the parents or the rest of the family, were not significantly associated with the quality of the child’s diet.
Eating the same food as parents meant the children had higher quality diets. This probably occurs because the so called ‘child-friendly’ alternatives offered for children are poorer in quality, balance and nutrients. The study showed that the less often children ate the same food as their parents, the poorer was their diets.
Children who ate main meals at a regular times had healthier diets than when they snacked throughout the day.
Take Home Messages
Preparing different and separate ‘child-friendly’ foods and meals for children was clearly shown to provide poorly quality foods and diets than if the children ate what their parents ate at family meals.
This seems to be a wide-spread phenomenon.
The ‘child-menus’ offered at restaurants and ‘kids food’ offered at fast food outlets have been shown in many studies to be of poorer quality than the ‘adult’ equivalents.
Children would to be better-off, from a nutritional point of view, being encouraged to eat what parents eat at family meal times