Children who are given the same meals as their parents are more likely to have healthier diets, according to a Scottish study.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh studied 2000 five-year-olds and found children who ate different meals to their parents tended to have the poorest diets.
The study analysed other eating habits, such as eating main meals at regular times, frequent snacking and eating in the living room or bedroom and found that while they did have an impact on diet quality, it was not as pronounced as whether they ate what their parents ate.
Study author Valeria Skafida said parents need better education to eat healthily themselves, so that their children can benefit.
The study also found that the eldest child in a family is more likely to have a healthier diet than the second and third children.
"Offering separate children's food for a main meal may often result in children missing out nutritionally," Skafida said in a media release.
"It is likely that in cases where children eat different foods, they are eating a less nutritious option. This is already known to be the case with kids' menus in restaurants, so children are best off eating the same foods as their parents."
A quarter of people involved in the study said family meals were never or only occasionally enjoyable for the whole family, and 14 percent said meals were often rushed.
Kara Landau, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, told ninemsn that parents should be models of good behaviour for their children.
"Finding simple ways to modify meals so that the family can all eat together appears to have a number of extremely strong positive outcomes for both the parents and the children," she said.
"Time and money can be saved by not having to prepare multiple meals, and strengthening family bonds through open conversation can have positive mental implications for the entire family."
But Landau said there is nothing wrong with modifying children's meals to make them more suitable.
"For example, often children don't like spicy food, so you could create something like a healthy lean minced beef burrito, preparing half of the mince without chilli or too many spices," she suggested.
"This way everyone can sit down together and enjoy their meals as a family."
Landau said meals are also important for family bonding.
"There is a correlation between preschool children who have conversations at meal times, and those with a better vocabulary by the time they are five," she said.
"For adolescents, it has been shown that those who more frequently eat together with their parents are at lower risk for substance abuse and have better social adjustment compared to adolescents who don't eat with their parents very often."