Portion Self-Help Advice for Children

Written by Jennifer Strailey

The larger the portion, the more your kids will eat and the fatter they will get. And that's bad news for American children who are twice as likely to be overweight as they were 20 years ago.

"You're not leaving this table until you clean your plate!" Sound familiar?

Chances are you heard it from your parents, but if they passed the baton to you, consider dropping it.

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A new study suggests our society's super-size mentality is a major factor in Americans' ever-increasing girth. It seems our eyes are rarely bigger than our stomachs, and that this wide-eyed mentality is shaped early on. Children as young as 5 ate more when served larger portions.

The study examined the eating habits of 32 preschool children, aged 3 to 6. The children were fed three weekly lunches of macaroni and cheese, carrot sticks, applesauce and milk. In the first week the portions were consistent with government recommendations; the second week the portions were larger, and in the third week the children received smaller portions than recommended.

When the older children were presented with bigger portions, they ate more. The 3- to 4-year-olds were unaffected by the larger portions. This seems to indicate that sensible dietary habits, as much as a pattern of overeating, are established at an early age, according to the study's researchers reporting in February's Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Unfortunately, bad habits prevail with too many children. American children are more overweight and less active than ever before. The percentage of overweight kids has doubled in the past 20 years to 17 percent. These children carry around more than extra pounds. They are more prone to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, precursors to cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that children are greatly influenced by their parents' eating habits, so you can lead the way with a healthful diet and portion control.

Dos and Don'ts of Eating:

Do: Allow your children to decide when they've had enough to eat.
Don't: Force children to clean their plates.

Do: Measure snack servings into a dish.
Don't: Allow kids to snack mindlessly with the whole bag.

Do: Plan active pastimes with your children.
Don't: Let the TV dominate family time.

Do: Cut back on fats from meats and dairy products.
Don't: Use dessert as a reward for children to finish their food.

Do: Plan ahead and make healthful snacks accessible.

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Photographer: Dennis Cox

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