Practical Portion Sizes for Kids
Follow the rule of thumb!
So everything I know about what children – specifically toddlers – eat is this: They eat everything you don’t want them to eat (hair, dog toys, that fluff you have been meaning to pick up for 3 months) and nothing that you do want them to eat.
So, instead of making something up like our friends in the nutritional therapies industry or even the famed Deliciously Ella, I thought I’d ask someone who does know about this stuff and invited Chloe Elliott, Specialist Paediatric Dietitian, Sarcastic Assassin and generally above average human to give you an expert perspective on what to feed your little ones:
“The majority of parents think children become overweight by living off processed junk and slurping sugary drinks. Sometimes they just can’t understand why their child is classed as “overweight” when they feed them what they deem to be a balanced diet. It’s just as important to think about how much you give children in addition to what you give them.
In the UK, our portions sizes are gradually on the up. In 2013, the British Heart Foundation compared portion sizes with those 20 years ago. They found that biscuits have increased by 17%, a portion of peanuts have increased by 80% and even some ready meals have increased by 98% in size! They’ve probably increased because we have increased our physical activity. OH WAIT NO….children’s physical activity has been decreasing over the past few years. In 2008, only 28% of boys and 19% of girls in England were meeting the recommendations for exercise (not brill I know). In 2012, they found that only 21% of boys and 16% of girls were meeting the recommendations (even less brill). You probably don’t need to a mathematician to work out that:
↑ portions sizes + ↓ activity = overweight children.
Obviously with that, the increased consumption of processed food and fast food outlets has not helped the situation (the equation is getting longer..).
So I’m feeding my child a kinda balanced diet, how much do they need? (I know you’re thinking it)
Essentially, the diet should contain the following number of portions
5 x fruit/vegetables
2 x protein (meat/fish/vegetarian alternative etc)
3 x dairy (milk/yoghurt/cheese)
5 x starchy carbs (bread/pasta/rice/potatoes/cereals etc)
Putting that into perspective, the diet may look a bit like this
Breakfast – cereal (20g), milk/dairy replacement (100ml), fruit/dried fruit (40g/20g), diluted fruit juice (100ml)
Morning snack – full fat yoghurt (60g), fruit (40g), fruit scone (30g with butter (3g)
Lunch – White bread (20g), baked beans (60g), cucumber (20g), Jelly (100g)
Afternoon snack – pitta bread (25g), houmous (30g), carrot (20g), red pepper (20g), milk/dairy replacement (150ml)
Dinner – protein source (approx. 45g, 90g if mixed in sauce eg chill/curry etc), vegetables (40g), carbohydrate (80g)
Before bed – milk/dairy replacement (150ml)
Obviously your child diet isn’t going to look exactly like that but it gives an idea about how to squeeze in the appropriate number of portions for each food group. They may go through stages where they refuse certain foods, toddler age is prime time for neophobia (irrational fear of all new things/foods, toddlers are such a hoot) so don’t stress and look forward to the time when they’ve grown out of it.
Although I’ve written weights above, there is NO expectation to weigh your child’s food! (literally who has time??). Using guides such as their own child-sized crockery will be so much less time consuming eg 1/3 protein, 1/3 carbs, 1/3 vegetables. A study in the US found that children using an adult-sized ate 50% MORE CALORIES than those children who had a child-sized plate. So it just shows that just like adults, children don’t necessarily stop eating after they’ve consumed the amount their body needs.
The simplest and quickest guide is actually usually hands (their hands, not yours). A portion of protein roughly should be the size of their palm, a fist should represent a portion of carbs, fruit or vegetables should be a handful, a thumb nail for spreads e.g. butter and a portion of cheese should be around the size of their thumb.
Caroline Walker Trust and the Infant and Toddler forum have some GREAT visual portions guides as well as balanced meal ideas which parents find helpful.
Although there a few guides out there for portion sizes, essentially they are just a guide. Your child may eat a little more or a little less than that and it’ll change from day to day so chill, you got this!”
So there you have it, from the horses mouth (no offence Chlo!).
This is particularly topical after the publication of a scientific research paper this week comparing shop bought and homemade savoury food for children under 5.
The study compared recipes from the top 20 children’s cookbooks on amazon to their shop bought equivalents. They found that the homemade food was cheaper, had a better variety of vegetables and between 7-66% more nutrients overall BUT that half contained more energy and saturated fat than is recommended.
This has obviously been taken up by the popular press and used as a means to ridicule those trying to do ‘the right thing’ and cook for their kids.
The real message here is that if you have a healthy balanced diet, share it with your children and pass on good habits. Kids don’t need special food, they need human food the same as you!
The other message is that if you use preprepared food from time to time DON’T FEEL GUILTY! Hooray!
Cute kid credit goes to:
Ria and Kieron Luscombe with Jared the Christmas pudding and soon to be big brother
and Eloise and Lawrence Hay with Toby and Hazel, eating their tea and posing for photos like little angels this evening!