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If you go to practically any restaurant in the UK or Europe, you’ll notice one thing, that the portions of food and the plates they serve them on are absolutely huge. This, more than anything else, is one of the reasons that scientists say that we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic the likes of which we’ve never seen and why children, more than any other group, are suffering from problems associated with it.
Another reason that children are suffering is from the long held belief that they should ‘finish their food’ or, in other words, eat everything that is on their plate. Simply put, this is a belief that has definitely passed its prime and should, in most cases, be abandoned. If a child isn’t filling up on snacks between meals then they should be allowed to eat as much as they want until they feel ‘full’ at meal time rather than being forced to eat everything that has been served to them.
There are 2 different terms that need to be kept in mind when it comes to portion sizes and children; portion and serving. In simple terms, a portion should be thought of as the amount of one single specific food that is served on someone’s plate where a serving is actually a unit of measurement that is used to indicate a specific amount of food from a specific food group. For example, a portion of pasta could actually fill up half of someone’s plate whereas a serving size of pasta for one single meal should be half a cup, which is substantially less.
The fact is, most people consume much more of a specific food item at one meal then is necessary to get the proper amount of nutrition, especially things like condiments. Ketchup, salad dressing, butter and even mustard are usually heaped on and the problem is that they contain incredibly high amounts of fat and salt and sugar.
What happens when a child eats more than they need to is that their stomach actually begins to expand, making room for larger meals. This can set up a vicious cycle whereby the child has to keep eating bigger and bigger meals to feel ‘full’. In time, these bigger and bigger meals result in a bigger and bigger waistline and also can affect a child’s body by causing obesity (obviously) as well as childhood diabetes, arteriosclerosis and other diseases that normally aren’t seen in humans until they reached their 50s and 60s.
Adding to this dilemma is the fact that children today get a lot less physical exercise than they used to, and in some cases practically none. Due to budget cuts many schools have reduced gym classes, something that at least got them 45 minutes to an hour of healthy movement every day. Without it, their bodies will not burn off the extra calories and fat that these large meals are putting into them.
Simply put, if your child is smaller you should use a smaller plate when serving them at every meal. This would be a great way to determine if they are getting enough to eat and also make sure that they are not eating too much. Also, cutting back on between-meal snacking and on fizzy drinks and fruit juice, both extremely high in sugar, is not only a good idea but vital to good health.
At the end of the day, serving and portion sizes that fit the size of your child are going to not only make sure that they get the nutrition that they need today but that they don’t turn into obese, sick adults tomorrow. If you regulate their portion sizes and make sure that they don’t eat too many between-meal snacks you’ll be surprised how much more energy they have and how easily they actually can ‘finish their plate’.