By: Dr. Linda Carson, CEO, Choosy Kids
Healthy eating includes making choices. In recent years, making decisions about how much is on our plate, at home or especially in a restaurant, has become increasingly more difficult. This is because the new normal for portions consumed has become increasingly larger. Sometimes meals served to one person to eat is enough for two or more people! Even how we talk about these issues has changed over the years. It can be confusing because serving size and portion size mean two different things, yet they are often used interchangeably as if they are the same.
A serving size is the amount of food or beverage listed on a product’s Nutrition Facts label. A healthy serving size is the measured amount of food recommended by health agencies or allied health professionals, and so the amount is determined.
Choose My Plate
If you have children or work with them, a great resource for learning about healthy eating, food groups, activity sheets, kid-friendly recipes, and tips for picky eaters is ChooseMyPlate.gov. The Choose My Plate image is becoming increasingly more popular as a tool to remind us of how foods should distributed on our plate.
For an inexpensive way to reinforce this at home, download the image of the plate, print, cut, and tape it to the under-side of a clear plastic plate and cup. This way your child (why not the entire family) can see how foods are recommended to be distributed on your plate at meal time.
Here is another concept to consider: the Choose My Plate image is a proportion plate suggesting to us how the various food groups should be on our plate in proportion to each other. While this visual is a very important and helpful reminder, we could still eat portions piled high that stay inside the proportion lines.
Parents of young children often question how much is the recommended serving size for their preschool child?
Serve child-sized portions and let the child ask for more if still hungry. A general rule of thumb is that a serving size is about 1 tablespoon of food for each year of age up to five years. So using a tablespoon as your serving spoon can really help. As your young child grows, you can use a measuring cup for your server. Four tablespoons equal a quarter cup. Research shows young children can regulate their food intake even better when they dole out their own portion right into their own dish. So provide your child with either a tablespoon and count out the servings based on the child’s age or with older children use the ¼ cup measuring cup as the “serving spoon.”
The child’s age, gender and activity level determine the exact amounts needed. To have fun with music and nutrition, listen to the song, What’s On My Choosy Plate.
Another important nutrition concept is “division of labor” at mealtime. There are strategies for parents to help guide our youngest children into being empowered to be more in charge of their eating behaviors, or division of responsibility.
Choosing nutritious foods and keeping portion sizes sensible will help keep your family at a healthy weight. Using simple rule of thumb guidelines will be a great place to start.
How have you guided your child’s eating behaviors? Share your tricks or tips.