The Correct Food Portion Sizes for Kids
Whilst health experts keep telling us to eat less and reduce our portion sizes, commercial food companies are bombarding us with king-size, supersize and 25% extra. Even our average dinner plate has grown two and a half inches in diameter since the 1970’s! Getting the amount we eat right is quite possibly the trickiest area of food and nutrition for both adults and children.
It is often thought that children are naturally better than adults at automatically regulating how much food they need to eat to meet their energy requirements. Current studies are suggesting that it is only preschool children, those under three years, who eat only to satisfy their hunger. Worryingly these studies suggest that school aged children eat what is put in front of them. So if you provide a child with an adult sized portion they are likely to eat it and therefore consume far too much for their size. The extra calories that are eaten will be stored as body fat. This can quickly lead to being overweight or even obese.
How Much Food Should we be Giving Our Children?At the end of this page you will find a guide to how many calories per day your child needs. However all these facts and figures make it confusing to know how much you should actually be putting on your child’s plate?
Try to give them portion sizes to match their age. To get an idea of how to convert an adult sized portion into a portion appropriate for their age, compare your hand against theirs. Their stomachs are also much smaller than yours and therefore a smaller portion will fill them up. Feeding them more won’t make them grow any faster, but will lead to fat being stored in their bodies.
Most of you will have experienced the “finish your dinner – there are starving children in this world” type comments from your parents, you may even find yourself saying this to your kids now! Your children are more likely to finish what is on their plate if they have smaller portions to begin with. If your children are still hungry they can always ask for more.
What About Snacks?If your child doesn’t eat well at meal times try looking at the amount and types of snacks they are having. Good snack choices include dried fruit, fresh fruit, rice cakes and milk. Try and aim for no more than two snacks a day. Many snack foods such as drinks and crisps are packaged for adults. Try sharing out one bag of crisps or saving some for later and keep them as a treat. Most children do not get the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Replacing high fat and sugary foods with fruit can help boost their daily intake.
Getting the Balance Right?All the nutrients a child needs can be found in the following four food groups, try to offer all of these every day:
- The cereal group - this includes breads, cereals, pasta and grains. Try to provide between 3 to 5 servings each day. Half a slice of bread provides one serving for 1 to 5 year olds, one slice of bread is a serving for 6 to12 year olds.
- Fruit and vegetables - offer plenty of fruit in the diet (a child’s handful of berries or half an apple is a portion). Vegetables such as green beans, broccoli and most root vegetables are often more readily accepted. Start children eating veggies young and they are less likely to reject them as they grow older. Remember – children learn by example, so if you are not a fan of vegetables, how can you expect your child to eat them?
- Milk group - make sure your child has milk, cheese or yoghurt at least three times a day.
- Meat, fish and alternative groups - meat, fish, eggs, pulses and nuts are needed two to three times a day. These provide a good source of protein and iron. A portion size of chicken for children between 1 to 3years is roughly a third of a small breast, 4 to12 year olds between half to one small chicken breast.