Does how often you eat with your family affect how many vegetables you or your children eat? Or does the vegetable intake have to do more with what you ate?

The February issue of the American Dietetic Association Journal discussed the association between family mealtimes and the higher dietary quality of school-aged children and adolescents. The researchers found that of the 434 caregivers that participated in the study, the frequency of family mealtimes was unrelated to children’s vegetable consumption or liking. This contrasted with the findings of other studies on older children that had related the mealtime frequency with dietary quality and intake.

However, they did find that children consumed more vegetables and had more liking for them when the meals were home-made, as opposed to when the meals were comprised of convenience items. They also found that television watching during mealtime was associated with a lower consumption of and liking of vegetables. These results were consistent with other studies previously done.

As a nutritionist, I was not especially surprised that the composition of the meals affected children’s intakes of vegetables. I was a little surprised to find that how often a family ate together had less effect on the children’s intakes than I expected. It seems that even if families don’t eat together for all five meals per week, they can still provide well-balanced meals for their children.

I was surprised and pleased to see that vegetable liking and consumption were higher in families that reported making more of their meals from scratch than from convenience or ready-made products. This adds fuel to my “cook at home” fire when I discuss healthy eating and cooking with clients and peers. Taking time to cook foods from scratch, particularly sauces, may seem like too much time in the kitchen, but when studies like this show that children are more inclined to eat the vegetables when they’re scratch cooked, then the motivation might increase.

As a culinary student, I am learning how to prepare vegetables according to restaurant standards. One of the most important lessons we’re learning is to avoid and prevent overcooking of vegetables, which is a surefire way to ruin a perfectly good vegetable.

When you’re cooking the vegetable, cook for the shortest amount of time possible. If you’ve got vegetables that cook at different stages, such as carrots and snow peas, start the longest cooking vegetable first, and then add the quicker-cooking vegetables later. For my example, start cooking your carrots about 3 to 5 minutes sooner than your snow peas, depending on the size and type of cooking you’re doing. Never ever cook your vegetable til it’s mushy, unless you’re planning on pureeing it in a blender.

Opening a can of vegetables probably takes 1 minute less time than steaming a fresh vegetable. If you haven’t got time to cook fresh veggies every night, then undercook a lot of them at your first meal and reheat them briefly in a skillet for your next meal. Voila! Fresh veggies!