Expert Opinion

How the traditional Sunday lunch could help decrease obesity

We are now not far into the New Year and it is National Obesity Awareness Week. If you have made a new year’s resolution to improve your health, here are a few small nudges that would have a true impact on your family meals. Some of the key components of a healthy meal for a family can be seen in the traditional Sunday meal, portion of potatoes (starchy carbohydrates), a portion of meat (protein), and a heap of veggies.

This brings me to my first point eat more vegetables. If there is one thing, we can do improve our family’s health I promise you, it’s eating more vegetables. For children this is always a challenge. They need to see you eat them. Which is why as often as possible eat together at a table. As their parent/guardian you are their role model, so seeing you eat peas, will influence their desire to eat peas, or any other new food.

Secondly, don’t give up. Research has shown it can take children at least 10 exposures to like or consume new foods, so don’t expect success straight way. Be happy if they smell, touch or just taste a tiny amount of it, every little bit counts.

Thirdly, make veggies your go to for snack foods. Most children are hungry when they come home from school, so give them one option, chopped up vegetables, such as carrots or cucumber. This takes the competition with other more exciting/tasty foods out of the picture. No, I don’t expect children to be thrilled by this idea, but if all they can eat before their evening meal is vegetables, they will eat them if they really are hungry. There is nothing wrong with filling up on vegetables before tea.

Another aspect about the family meal to think about is portion sizes. This week the British Nutrition Foundation has launched some new information on portion sizes a key component of a healthy family meal. So, when it comes to how much meat you should have on your plate, I’m afraid it is probably less than you think, half the size of your hand or your child’s hand is all you need. There is a really good reason children should use smaller plates, they don’t need much, and actually neither do you. For more information check out the portion sizes guidelines at

My other key tips are enjoying spending time together. Research has shown that family meals have been linked to positive behaviour in children, such as academic results and children’s self-esteem. Whilst family’s meals can be stressful, try to remember, children eat when they are hungry, and there is no need to force them to eat if they really don’t want anything. Another key recommendation is making sure you don’t offer high fat/sugary food after dinner. If they haven’t eaten their main meal, one suggestion would be to only offer fruit to them later, such as a banana, if they are hungry just before bedtime. Finally, turn off all media devices, tv, phones, tablets. Research has shown that screen time tends to have a negative impact on the amount of food we eat and provides very little positive interaction during meal times.

Finally, if possible, make it from scratch and get your child involved. If you make your own spaghetti Bolognese sauce, not only can you add in loads of grated veggies, the sauce will have less added sugar. Make a big batch and freeze for nights you are too busy to cook. It will be quicker and cheaper than a take-a-way and healthier for you. Cooking with your child provides them with ownership over the meal they are about to eat can increase a child’s desire to consume something new or different.

Whilst, these may sound like small ways to change your dietary habits of your family, over time, they could have a positive impact which could really make a difference to your family’s health and wellbeing.

Meaghan Christian

Meagan is a former Research Fellow at Leeds Beckett. Meaghan's research interest is in dietary assessment and development of nutrition promoting interventions in families. Since 2006 she has been working on research to improve children’s diets with a focus on intervention research from large RCT’s conducted in the UK.

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