We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” Is your child the proportions of his or her portion sizes? Research shows that large portion sizes may be associated with an unhealthy weight in kids (childhood obesity) because calorie intake also increases.
In fact, 40 years ago, the size of the largest fast food burger, fries, and soda is the same size as the smallest meal available today. These super-sized meals may be super-sizing our kids.
Let’s look at some of the challenges with portion sizes:
Perception deception: The way our children (and parents) view food is influenced by savvy marketers, in part. Views also reflect a history with food and eating, current trends in nutrition, cravings, and peer influences. Don’t believe everything you see and hear about food— the term “healthy” can be over-used and misleading. Eat at home as often as possible, and be sure to sift through nutrition information by using credible sources, such as a Registered Dietitian (RD).
I can’t get no…satisfaction: Studies have shown that, despite an increase in calories, bigger portions don’t help kids feel full and don’t result in less eating later. Also, foods that are low in nutrients (empty calories) don’t satisfy in the long run, and sometimes cause increased hunger later. Focus on providing nutrient-dense foods regularly, so that these become the staple of your child’s diet.
Proper portions: The USDA provides consumers with a guideline for portion sizes. I’ve also got a handy free download that outlines starter portion sizes to help you target them based on your child’s age. Be sure to look at the child-specific guidelines—they are different than the adult-based ones.
Also, beware of words that warn of portion distortion– value meal, combo, ultimate, tub, supreme, biggie, deluxe, and super-size—it may be tempting to think more is better, but in this case, more is more calories.
To ration, or not to ration? Teaching your child to be aware of portion sizes is important. Helping them visualize amounts can be positive, but measuring them can soon become negative, even restrictive.
Family-style feeding appears to be more conducive to normalized portions and eating patterns, than pre-plating your child’s meal.
Picture these to help kids choose healthy portions:
- a deck of cards for meat or fish
- 3 dice for cheese
- a lightbulb for rice and pasta
- a baseball for fruits/veggies, milk, and breakfast cereals
- a poker chip for oils, salad dressings, and other fats
- a hockey puck for biscuits and muffins
- a CD for waffles and pancakes
Step up to the plate: Serve meals on smaller dishes to create the perception of a full plate. Creative ideas like bento boxes and condiment cups in measured sizes can also be a fun and easy way to serve kids at school and home. Take the guesswork out of meal portions by following a guideline. Divide your meal plate like this: ½ fruits and vegetables, 1/4 lean protein, and 1/4 whole grains.
Begin teaching your child about normal portion sizes, restaurant and fast food portion traps. Arm your child with accurate perception and awareness when it comes to food portion sizes.
Normalizing portion sizes in your home will help your child achieve and maintain a healthy weight.