Parents watching daughter licking dinner plate

Children who are served dinner at the dining table are less likely to be overweight, according to the latest bout of research on this subject,

And what's more, if you allow them to help themselves from serving bowls, rather than you pre-plating up their food, it will result in them eating less.

It's because, say the scientists, children learn to recognise when they are full quicker when sitting around a table and serving themselves than if given a plateful of food in front of the television.

The results emerged from a study of children aged between two and five in more than 100 child care centres in the US.

Lead author Dr Brent McBride, director of the child development laboratory at the University of Illinois, said: "Family-style meals give kids a chance to learn about things like portion size and food preferences.

"When foods are pre-plated, children never develop the ability to read their body's hunger cues. They don't learn to say, okay, this is an appropriate portion size for me."

The researchers added that children should not be pressurised into finishing a serving as this can encourage them to eat more than they need.

Dipti Dev, a graduate student in nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois, said: "Instead of asking 'are you done?' [parents] should ask children, 'are you full?'. Or they should say, 'if you're hungry, you can have some more'.

"Asking the right questions can help children listen to their hunger and satiety signals."

And if you're worried about your children not eating enough, she reassuringly added: "If a child doesn't eat at one meal, he'll compensate for it over a 24-hour period.

"Making kids eat when they're not hungry is probably the worst thing you can do. It teaches them not to pay attention to their body's signals."

The research was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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