“Mommy, this pizza slice is bigger than my head!”
Portion sizes have dramatically increased over the past 40 years, which has predictably given way to growing appetites. Research has confirmed that, when we’re given larger portions, both children and adults will eat more. Studies have also shown that kids eat 25 percent more when they’re offered double the portion for their age, and adults follow suit by eating “significantly” more when given more food than they need.
Young children use internal cues of feeling full to stop eating. When we age, we lose those cues and instead respond to other prompts, such as portion size, to influence the way we eat. The behaviors children learn at an early age can shape their eating habits as adults. As parents, we have a great opportunity to teach our children healthy ways of eating.
So how much should your child eat? The answer literally lies in their hand. An appropriate portion for meat is approximately the size of the palm of your child’s hand. The size of their fist is about the portion of whole grains like whole wheat pasta or brown rice. When it comes to snacks, generally whatever fits in their hand is an appropriate amount. You can learn more about portion sizes at ChooseMyPlate.gov.
In the meantime, use these five tips to teach your children about how much they should eat:
Use child-sized plates.
Portion sizes for children are smaller than adults, so they should eat from an appropriate child-sized plate. Make it into a fun activity by helping your children decorate their own plates! Encourage them to add their own personal touches with stickers or use a non-toxic, permanent marker to indicate where particular food groups should go.
Ask for half orders when going out to eat.
Instead of always ordering off the “kid menu,” ask for a half order of an adult meal to eat at the restaurant. The other half can go into a to-go container to enjoy for another meal.
Serve snacks in fun containers.
Having appropriate portions for snacks is just as important as having appropriate portions for meals. Try serving snacks in new and creative ways. Try arranging carrots and celery in separate compartments of a muffin tin, and put peanut butter in the other compartments. You can use the same technique with yogurt and various toppings like blueberries and granola.
Create your own snack packs.
Make choosing the healthier option easy by keeping single portion-size snacks handy. Oftentimes, prepackaged individual snacks provide a larger portion than necessary. Creating your own snack packs can help ensure appropriate amounts for your children. Make it fun by decorating your packs with your kids’ favorite stickers.
Try portion-controlled recipes like the ones below.
Whole-wheat Pita Pizzas
4 whole-wheat pitas
1 cup tomato sauce
2 cups assorted chopped vegetables (mushrooms, spinach, onions, peppers, broccoli)
1 cup shredded cheese
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce on pita bread and spread evenly. Top with vegetables and/or the meat of your choice. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of cheese on top of the vegetables. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.
Frozen Chocolate Bananas
1/2 cup chocolate chips
4 wooden skewers or popsicle sticks
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Peel the bananas and cut each of them in half. Insert skewer through the banana. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave and stir until smooth. Dip bananas in chocolate and place on baking sheet lined with foil. Sprinkle bananas with nuts, if desired. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.