Portion Sizing for Our Children

Proper portion sizes have become very skewed in today’s society.  It seems as though American’s have become insatiable.  We are more interested in “the bigger, the better” and have veered away from what we really need to be satisfied.  With the “Supersize” upgrades tempting us at every turn (for a deal, mind you) and restaurants increasing their portion sizes at each visit, it seems as though we have lost our footing in navigating this world of food.  While adults are in complete control of what and how much they consume, our children are not.  WE are in charge of what they are given and how much is put in front of them.  Picky palates may be a huge issue in your home but let’s hold off on that topic and first address the proper portioning for your child.  Whether it’s macaroni and cheese and a hot dog or steamed broccoli and turkey, let’s educate ourselves on the right amount of food to provide our children.

Below are some easy tips and guidelines (including ideas from the American Dietetic Association) for assuring that your child is getting the right portion sizes!

How do I measure a serving size for a child?

§  Adult vs. Child.  A serving size for a child is about ¼ or ½ of an adult serving size.  For example, one serving of fruit for an adult is a small-to-medium sized apple.  Your child should have either one-quarter to one-half of that serving.

§  Child's Age.  You can also base your child’s serving size on age.  For every year, add about 1 tablespoon per food group.  For a 2 year old, it would be 2 tablespoons, 3 year old, 3 tablespoons, 4 year old, ¼ cup, so on and so forth.  This ensures that your child is not overeating (if they tend to have a habit of that) and it is helpful to see how much ¼ cup actually looks like!

§  Small Glass.  For juices and beverages with added sugar – use the smallest glass in the house!  Avoid supersizing!

Fun Ways to Help Children Understand Portions and Serving Sizes

§  Portioning plates for children!  This is a really fun, visual way for a child to see how much they are eating and also teaches them healthy eating habits.  There are many websites that offer portion plates for children.   Additionally, they can be found at your local Target and Kmart.

§  Make a Smiley Face.  If you want to use your own dishware, make it a fun game by designing a “smiley face” with the different food groups.  The “eyes” are smaller so use that for protein and/or whole grains.  The “smile” is the biggest part.  Use that for veggies and/or fruit.  This will help demonstrate that fruits and veggies should be the biggest, and most important, part of the meal.

§  Use Hands.  The palm of your hand equals a serving size for protein and your clenched fist equals a serving size for grains.  Get your child involved by showing them how to use their palm and fist as a way to measure how much they are eating.  Another fun, interactive technique to teach them portioning at a young age.

Eating Out, Clean Plates and Leading by Example!

§  Share a meal.  When dining out, the children’s menu is the best place to start with, but please note that some of those portions are enough for an adult!  Splitting the meal with another sibling is a good way to cut down on the portion size or ask the waiter to only bring out half the portion and have the rest boxed for the next day.

§  Clean the Plate?  Avoid the “Clean Plate Syndrome”.  Try not to encourage your child to clean their plate.  Just serve less.  This will prevent overeating and help your child manage their eating habits as they get older.  Again, less is more!

§  LEAD BY EXAMPLE!  As a parent or childcare provider, make healthy food choices and eat proper portions to set a great example for your child.

Our generation is overstressed, overfed, overweight, and under exercised.  Let’s prevent this from happening to the generations that follow.  Teaching proper portion sizes at a young age is one of the smartest ways to implement healthy habits for when your child begins to make their OWN food choices.

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Jill Latham, MS Nutrition, Food Science and Dietetics

Throughout Jill’s life, nutrition, health, and exercise have always been the cornerstones of who she is. After a stint in the entertainment business following college graduation, Jill decided to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree in Nutrition and become a Registered Dietitian. Jill has a Master's of Science in Nutrition, Food Science and Dietetics and is a soon to be Registered Dietitian. Jill truly enjoys encouraging and teaching people how to eat nutritiously and live healthy! During her four years in school, Jill realized how much she liked educating children on the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, which lead her to develop a strong interest in fighting childhood obesity. Honored to be part of ChildCareInfo.com as the Nutrition contributor, she looks forward to sharing her knowledge on how to make healthy living a part of everyone’s lives, especially our children. Jill currently resides in Santa Barbara, California with her boyfriend and dog, Madison. She also loves to juice fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and exercise regularly! Please visit Jill’s nutrition, health, exercise, & wellness blog Nutrition Concierge. Jill is Founder and CEO of Vibrant Earth Juices