There are any number of factors in the increasing number of obese children: lack of exercise; excessive snacking; poor choice of foods for meals. But large food portions are a large portion of the problem. Experts and writers point to fast-food restaurants but the reality is that the issue also occurs in the home. And fathers, still new to the family management role, tend to overdo the food portions fed to the kids.
Why Portion Size Matters
Children have to be taught just about everything and much of that learning is absorbed through watching and repetition. You won’t be able to lecture them on finding the right sizes – God knows I’ve tried that – but you can teach them by making sure that they repeatedly see the right thing being done. If kids consistently note roughly the same amounts on their plate, then they’ll be set to take the appropriate amounts as they age. They might still overdo it, but they’ll at least understand that what’s presently on the plate really is too much when you remind them.
First, remember that they aren’t adults and don’t require the same amount as you. Their plate might appear sparse to you, but it’s fine for their age and size and they aren’t going to go hungry.
The portion sizes for children will vary by their ages, which means that you may have to do some additional mental gymnastics when feeding kids of different ages. In the PracticalDad household, that means feeding two teenagers and an elementary schooler, so be prepared for grousing when the younger ones have less on their plate. The following chart is adapted from one provided by Kaiser Permanente.
|Food Group||Daily Servings||1-3 years||4-5 years||6-12 years|
|Grains and Breads||<=5||1/2 slice or 1/4 cup||1/2 slice or 1/3 cup||1 slice or 1/2 cup|
|Vegetables||3-5||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup|
|Fruits||2-4||1/4 cup||1/3 cup||1/2 cup|
|Dairy||2-3||1/2 cup||3/4 cup||1 cup|
|Meat and Protein||2-3||1/4 cup or 1 ounce||1/3 cup or 1 1/2 ounce||1/2 cup or 2 ounces|
Children bring chaos. Kids are sick or have colic, schedules change and activities intrude, and there are meals that won’t come close to what’s recommended for nutritional requirements. But the goal is assure that the kids have the necessary foods for the large majority of meals.
Finding the Right Portion Size
It’s simple to get the right portion size for children who are still on baby foods and cereal but that changes when they start to eat the same things that are on your plate. So how can you find the right portion size?
- Use a small scale or measuring cups to measure appropriate amounts. This can continue until you are comfortable that you can reasonably estimate the right amount visually. That said, you should consider occasionally still using them just to check yourself.
- Learn some comparable amounts. For instance, an adult serving of meat is four ounces which is comparable to a piece of meat about the size of your palm. A one ounce piece of meat would consequently be a quarter of the size of your palm. Likewise, a serving of peanut butter (a protein) is about one level tablespoon. A good reference article for portion sizes can be found at Meals Matter.
- If things are too chaotic in the moment, just consider what you would find appropriate and then cut it by one-half to two-thirds. Trust me, it’s not a perfect approach but there will be meals like that.
The upshot of all of this is that meals require planning and forethought that goes beyond deciding what foods to serve. You have to leave yourself sufficient time to prepare and then be ready to leave your own food while you tend to the kids.
And don’t let them load you with guilt because you or older sibling has more on the plate.