You’ve probably heard of the term “portion distortion” in conjunction with massive restaurant size servings. A serving could provide the equivalent of three meals in one sitting. As portion sizes have slowly increased, plates sizes have also grown to accommodate them. Now, a new study released online in Pediatrics today finds that the size of the plate affects how much children will serve themselves and eat.
Forty-two elementary school aged children were observed during school lunches serving themselves on either a child-sized or twice as big adult-sized plates. The children were allowed to serve themselves entrees (chicken nuggets or pasta), vegetables, and fruits. Children using the larger plates served themselves more, and tended to consume more calories. Unfortunately, children would serve themselves more of everything…except the vegetable.
Why is this important? There are a few reasons. The current United States nutrition guidelines, “Choose My Plate,” are centered on using a plate to depict the appropriate amount of protein, grains, fruits, and vegetables per meal. If the size of the plate is influencing your family’s intake, even the perfect variety of foods can be over-portioned, causing excess intake.
In many modern families, older children are often left to serve themselves and their younger siblings breakfast or dinner while their parents work long hours. Even their best efforts for a balanced meal can be derailed when serving on too large of a plate.
To be honest, the results of this study are not surprising. It is psychologically more satisfying to see a plate that seems abundant with food, instead of a sparsely covered plate that leaves you feeling like you are restricting yourself. In my experience working with children in a weight management program, they often had more success controlling portion sizes when the entire family down-sized their dinner plates, cereal bowls, and glasses.
Not ready to throw out your entire dining set for better portions? Don’t! Consider using the salad plate as a lunch or dinner plate for your child…and consider them for the adults as well. Check out yard sales for older plates that are likely smaller than your modern set. Or head to dollar discount stores to replace glasses or cereal bowls with more acceptable size-wise counterparts.
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