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Looking on the Bright Side

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From previous research, we know that eating together as a family tends to improve the nutritional status of the children in the household and reduce their risk of becoming overweight. But less has been known about how the emotional climate of mealtimes influences the foods children choose to eat.

We now know a bit more, thanks to a study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Researchers at the University of Illinois observed parents and preschoolers during real-life mealtimes, noting how many times moms and kids expressed positive and negative emotions. Compared with mothers who expressed more negative feelings during meals, moms who telegraphed more positive emotions, such as warmth and encouragement—and who also seemed to be enjoying themselves—had children who ate about one more serving, on average, of healthy food like fruits and vegetables.

Upbeat mealtimes seem to make it easier for children to approach healthy foods, but when there is lots of complaining, tykes are less likely to want to sit there and nibble on their Brussels sprouts. So, parents: To foster the next generation of healthy eaters, try to promote positive mealtimes. In other words, stop bringing your work angst to the dinner table.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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