Children eat more fruits and vegetables when families sit down to dine together, British researchers have found.

Health authorities such as the World Health Organization recommend the eating of five 80-gram portions of fruits and vegetables a day to promote health and prevent disease.

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Children from families who said they always ate a meal together at a table consumed 125 grams more fruits and vegetables than those who never ate a meal together. (Eric Parsons/Associated Press)

England's Health Department has a $128-million campaign to promote eating five portions a day, but the program does not directly address behaviour at family meal time.

When researchers looked at the diets of 2,383 elementary school children in London, they found children whose families said they "always" ate a family meal together at a table consumed 125 grams more fruits and vegetables than those who never ate a meal together.

"Eating a family meal together regularly could increase children's fruit and vegetable intake and help them achieve the recommended intake," Meaghan Christian of the school of food science and nutrition at University of Leeds and her co-authors conclude in Thursday's issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Children from families who reported "sometimes" eating a family together had on average 95 grams of fruits and vegetables more than those children who never dined as a family.

Daily consumption of fruits and vegetables by parents was also associated with higher consumption by the children, the team found.

Kids watch what parents eat

"Children need to see adults eating fruit and vegetables to help demonstrate positive behaviour," the researchers noted.

"Another important, but simple to implement, public health message is that cutting up fruit and vegetables facilitates children's intake," the study's authors suggested.

Children whose parents always cut up fruits and vegetables also consumed half a portion more on average. Children whose parents sometimes chopped up produce consumed about 21 more grams than those in the never group.

Previous research done mainly in the U.S. also pointed to the importance of the family meal for preschoolers and primary school children.

The researchers acknowledged limitations of the study, such as how parents might be inclined to give "socially desirable responses," which could lead to overestimates of the association.

The one-day tick list of foods used age and gender specific portion sizes, but may not reflect intake of nutrients in the longer term, they said.

About 36 per cent of parents did not fully complete the questionnaire, although they didn't find any differences when the findings were analyzed with and without those participants.

The study was funded by the U.K.'s National Institute for Health Research.