Remember reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears as a child? Daddy Bear’s bowl of porridge was the biggest, Mummy Bear’s was smaller and Baby Bear’s was the smallest. Their portion sizes were relative to the size of the bear and quite right too. It can be something we easily forget. I know a lot of women who struggle to lose weight because they’re eating the same sized dinners as their husbands and boyfriends, likewise, a lot of children may be larger than is healthy for them because they are being offered portions similar to those of their parents.

It is such a simple, common sense idea, but can be difficult to implement because no one wants to see their children go hungry or think that their children are going hungry. It can also be difficult to work out exactly how much food a child should be eating since they grow up so quickly and their nutritional needs are constantly changing. Throw this in with being strapped for time and it’s something that can easily get overlooked.

You’ll be glad to hear that there are some very simple ways you can get on top of your child’s portion sizes and easily assess how big their meals should be. It should only take a little bit of planning and thought to start making healthy changes. You can also use these methods and tips on yourself and the whole family, benefitting everyone’s health! Our top tips for managing kids’ portion sizes are:

1. Ensure children eat 3 regular meals a day with 1-2 small snacks.

If there are no set mealtimes, children may end up grazing throughout the day. It is then very difficult for anyone to know exactly how much food they’ve eaten during the day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner at a similar time each day with a mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon snack will make it much easier to know how much they’ve had. Eating at similar times will stop them getting too hungry and wanting to eat more at their next meal. They will be less likely to complain of still being hungry and pressing your guilt buttons!

2. At each meal check the portion size of each element of the meal.

Most, if not all meals would ideally consist of a protein element (meat, cheese, pulses, beans, yoghurt), a carbohydrate element (pasta, rice, bread, noodles) and a fruit/vegetable element. You may also have sauces, for example, with pasta. The most straightforward way to manage portions of these elements is:

Portions of meat and fish should roughly fit in the palm of their hand.
Portions of fruit, veg, carbohydrates and dairy products should roughly be the size of their fist.

The great thing about this is that as they grow, you will still be able to get the correct portion sizes for them. The only difficulty with this is if you’re making up a dinner such as pasta in one pan, it can be hard to separate out the right amount from the pan for them. You may want to cook up their portion in a separate, smaller pan or keep the elements separate and measure them out after they’re cooked. As you get more experienced doing this, however, it will get easier to judge portion sizes. It is also a great way to get your children involved in cooking dinner. Get them to come and help measure their own portion sizes. A knock on effect of this will be to teach them how to manage their own portions as they get older, hopefully turning them into healthy young adults.

3. Have separate plates and bowls that fit their food portions.

Children may get upset if you start changing their portion sizes and they see that they have much less food than you. One way to overcome this is to get them to pick their own special plate and bowl that is smaller than yours. By putting them in control of choosing their own plates and bowls they will feel like they have control over their meal times and that this change is something positive and special for them rather than feeling deprived. It will also help you as a parent not to feel like they don’t have a pitiful amount of food on a huge plate!

We would recommend implementing just one small change every few weeks so you don’t overload yourself as a parent and so your child is faced with dramatic changes in his or her eating routine too. For example, if you aren’t used to a regular breakfast routine, start with implementing that and getting that meal right for a few weeks before moving on to lunch, dinner and then snacks.

Good luck! Remember to let us know how you get on or if you have any tricks for measuring and managing your child’s portion sizes.

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October 19 2012

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