Some interesting news for parents dedicated to healthy eating and organic living: Children who snack when they’re with a large group of friends eat almost one-third more than those who snack with only a few peers, according to researchers at the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Julie Lumeng, MD, and Katherine H. Hillman, MPH, analyzed how 54 children between the ages of 2½ and 6½ ate when they were in groups of nine and three kids. Their study was published in the January issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Children ate slightly more in the larger groups when snack time lasted less than 11 minutes. But when snack time increased, children in the larger groups ate 30% more than those in the smaller groups, irrespective of the time they spent snacking.

The researchers believe kids in large groups start snacking sooner and eat more quickly, with less time spent socializing. They call this phenomenon “social facilitation,” which occurs when the brain’s normal signals of satiety are overridden by the sights and sounds of others eating.

If your children tend to eat too little, they’ll fare better having meals with family and/or friends at home, the researchers note. And “for the child who overeats, overconsumption may be driven by having meals in overstimulating busy or chaotic environments, as is often the case when eating out, particularly at fast-food restaurants,” they write. “Thus, the results also support recommendations to have mealtimes at home with the family, but for the purpose of providing a calm and peaceful eating environment.”

Book Pick of the Day: American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Your Child’s Nutrition