About a year and a half ago I began to combat this way of eating and thinking in my home with my children. As I read and heard more about the trend of children being inactive and overweight, and began to learn more about the recommended true portion sizes for different foods (deck of cards, baseball, ping-pong ball, etc.). I decided to try to integrate this into our daily meals/snacks both in and out of home, whenever possible.
At first I was met with some whining and begging for more food, but standing firm in what I knew was enough and that they had really eaten enough for that sitting, I didn't budge. Over time, we began to eat our meals more slowly, talking and interacting at the table (a time of day I now cherish and look forward to with my kids), and no one usually asks for a second helping. They have become accustomed to eating the right amount of food and realizing that they are satisfied and their body doesn't actually feel hungry anymore (we all have heard of the 20 minute rule before going back for seconds).
Perhaps, if I get the kids used to realizing what true portion size is while they are young, it will be natural to them as they grow older and begin to eat more frequently away from home.
So often I see children consuming more food that most adults require at a meal. When I visit the school lunchroom of either of my boys or work in the daycare, I see it everyday and I see how overeating as well as eating inappropriate foods is promoted at an early age.
Look at the typical school menu at a public school, or a childcare center. As far as menu choices, in which a 5- year -old Kindergartener is offered the same amount of food as an 11 -year- old Fifth grader, it consists mostly of fast food, food high in saturated fat and calories; chicken nuggets, french fries, pizza, tacos, cheeseburgers (of the frozen, greasy variety)...you get the idea.
When the schools do offer a healthy veggie option, they either couple it with a somewhat unhealthy choice that kids opt more for, or they drown it in butter and boil it to death so that all the minerals are long gone. The only drink option is milk, which is unfortunate for the growing number of people who are realizing the unhealthy benefits of milk and do not want their children drinking it (see my recent post entitled Don't Drink your Milk ).
At home , my kids are served a healthy portion of their meal--which is balanced out to focus on most of the food groups--and if they are still hungry they can have seconds on the more healthy aspect of the meal such as the veggie or some fresh fruit. Same thing goes for evening snacking, which is kept to a minimum, but because of the outside activity my boys engage in, I realize they are using up a bit more energy and require more to be satisfied in the evenings. However, this "more" is not three slices of pizza or a few cupcakes, poptarts, or cookies--it is a protein snack of some kind, or a bowl of low-sugar cereal. We also keep fresh fruit in the house and have cut/sliced veggie options in the fridge for easy grabbing. Also worth mentioning is what kids drink--sodas, koolaid, energy drinks such as gatorade--children are getting a lot more calories than they need from drinking also. My rule is--they can have a soda when we eat out, they get a Gatorade if we are going to be outside most of the day (pool, hiking, park), and they never have Koolaid.
I also try to portion things out according to the amount of calories each child needs on a daily basis--from oldest to youngest. Around here, my kids are aware of portion sizes, what makes a correct portion, and they realize that the older ones get more than the younger because of caloric requirements. (Of course, it is explained to them in a MUCH simpler way).
Some of my friends support my view on the importance of food portions/selections, others frown and disagree stating that their children will burn off whatever they eat and are already thin so it doesn't matter. To this I respond with the fact that cholesterol and trans fat is still an issue in good health--even in kids that are thin already. America also is dealing with heart diease, diabetes, and other diet-related issues besides obesity. Let's just be honest: It starts at home.
Here is a list of some of the healthy foods that I keep in the home for easy grabbing:
- Peanut butter balls (PB, honey, evap. milk, rice krispies--add and mix together until firm enough to make balls--refrigerate)
- apples, peaches, pears,
- soy yogurts,
- rice milk ice cream bars
- all fruit popsicles
- granola bars
You get the idea...portions AS well as food choices are important, not just for the kids, but for us as well.
Edited to add: I don't mean to sound like we don't occassionally eat fast food, or have unhealthy days, b/c we do of course! The road to health eating begins with awareness and that is my point with this post.
Also remember, when eating out, portion sizes are usually three to four times larger than the recommended serving size (!!). Try sharing meals or packing half of the meal in a to-go box before even beginning to eat.
While at home, practice letting your child serve himself the appropriate portion size so he becomes aware of how much is enough.
For additional and helpful info on children's as well as adult portion sizes, check out MYpyramid.com