March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
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...|
|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|
|Orange, apple, pear||1 small fruit (2½ inches in diameter)||Tennis ball|
|Raisins||¼ cup||Golf ball|
|Baked potato||1 medium||Computer mouse|
|Vegetables, chopped or salad||1 cup||Baseball|
|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|
|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.
Reviewed February 2017 Jodie (Jo Ellen) Shield, MED, RD, LD, is co-author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Mary Mullen, MS, RD, is co-author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.