Kids and Portion Control

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When kids follow MyPlate recommendations for daily servings of foods, they are well on their way to healthy growth and development. Unfortunately, many kids today seem to be suffering from “portion distortion.” When talking about what kids eat or drink, keep these definitions in mind.

What Is a “Serving Size”? What Is a “Portion Size”?

A serving is a specific amount of food or drink that is defined by common measurements, such as cups, ounces or tablespoons. Examples include recommended servings from MyPlate (the amount kids should eat) and the serving size on a Nutrition Facts Label, which is the basis for all the other nutrition information on the label. In many cases, the serving size listed on the Nutrition Facts Label is different from the MyPlate recommended serving size. In fact, many of the MyPlate serving sizes are smaller than those listed on the Nutrition Facts Label.

A portion is the amount of food that happens to end up on the plate. Think of portion size as the actual amount of food kids choose to eat at breakfast, lunch, dinner or as a snack. Portions may be larger or smaller than the recommended serving size.

Visualizing Appropriate Portion Sizes

One reason kids may not be eating appropriately sized portions based on the recommended MyPlate serving sizes is that they may not recognize what a reasonable portion looks like. What does one-half cup of pasta look like? What about three ounces of chicken or two tablespoons of peanut butter? The good news is that kids don’t need a measuring cup or scale to measure the portions they should eat — instead, they can visualize them by using familiar objects, such as a tennis ball or CD, that are similar in size to recommended serving sizes. Before they eat or drink, they can think of the relevant object and choose a portion that matches its size.

Here are some tips to help you and your kids visualize portion sizes:

Food Portion Size About the Size of…
Grains Group
Bread 1 ounce or 1 regular slice CD cover
Dry cereal 1 ounce or 1 cup Baseball
Cooked cereal, rice or pasta 1 ounce or ½ cup ½ baseball
Pancake or waffle 1 ounce or 1 small piece (6 inches) CD
Bagel, hamburger bun 1 ounce or ½ piece Hockey puck
Cornbread 1 piece Bar of soap

 

Fruits Group
Orange, apple, pear 1 small fruit (2½ inches in diameter) Tennis ball
Raisins ¼ cup Golf ball

 

Vegetables Group
Baked potato 1 medium Computer mouse
Vegetables, chopped or salad 1 cup Baseball

 

Dairy Group
Fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt 1 cup Baseball
Cheese 1½ ounces natural cheese or 2 ounces processed cheese 9-volt battery
Ice cream ½ cup ½ baseball

 

Protein Foods Group
Lean beef or poultry 3 ounces Deck of cards
Grilled or baked fish 3 ounces Checkbook
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons Ping-pong ball

 

Oils Group
Margarine 1 teaspoon Standard postage stamp
Oil or salad dressing 1 teaspoon Standard cap on a 16-ounce water bottle

Helps Kids Listen to Their Bodies

One core strategy for healthy eating at all ages is listening to internal hunger and fullness cues. Discuss what it feels like to be hungry and what it feels like to be full with your child. A discussion about the difference between physical hunger and boredom, sadness or tiredness is appropriate for older children. When kids listen to their bodies, the chances of overeating are lessened. Help them understand it is OK to stop eating when they feel full, even if there is food left on the plate.

Adapted from: Ellen Shield, MED RD LD and Mary Mullen, MS, RD

Tip of the Day

Remember to wash fresh fruits and vegetables! Rinse fruits and vegetables before preparing or eating them. Under clean, running water, rub fruits and vegetables briskly to remove dirt and surface microorganisms. After rinsing, dry with a clean towel.

Daily Inspiration 

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