(NAPS) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children between the ages of 2 and 5 who are considered overweight has nearly quadrupled over the past few decades. Today, approximately 20 percent of toddlers fall into the overweight category, compared with just 5 percent a generation ago. One significant factor may be the increase in portion sizes, which have more than tripled in recent years.
Simple practices such as teaching portion control and encouraging self-serving play an important role in maintaining a healthy weight. During the toddler years, children possess the natural instinct of knowing when they are hungry and when they are full, which makes it the perfect time to encourage them to listen to their bodies and find ways to make family mealtime a fun, educational experience.
Teach your kids about basic nutrition facts, because the portion size they are used to eating may be equal to two or three standard servings. To see how many servings a package has, check the “servings per container” listed on its Nutrition Facts. You may be surprised to find that small containers often have more than one serving inside. Put the suggested serving size that appears on the label on your plate before you start eating. This will help you see what one standard serving of a food looks like compared to how much you normally eat.
It may also help to teach your kids to compare serving sizes to everyday objects. For example, 1/4 cup of raisins is about the size of a large egg. Three ounces of meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards.
Here are some other approximations:
1 cup of cereal = a fist
1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or potato = 1/2 baseball
1 baked potato = a fist
1 medium fruit = a baseball
1 1/2 ounces of low-fat or fat-free cheese = 4 stacked dice
1/2 cup of ice cream = 1/2 baseball
2 tablespoons of peanut butter = a ping-pong ball
- Apply a self-serve policy: The American Medical Association (AMA) recommends allowing children to serve themselves so that they can self-regulate their meals. During the ages of 3 to 5, kids’ natural instinct of feeling hungry versus feeling full is changing; now is the time to help them listen to their bodies.
- Turn off the TV: Just like adults, children will consume more calories when they eat in front of the television. Kids are more likely to pay attention to signs of fullness when they aren’t distracted by a favorite cartoon character.
- Don’t worry if at first you don’t succeed: Feed children a wide variety of healthy foods, but it’s normal for kids to balk at unfamiliar choices. You may need to offer the new food up to 10 times before it is deemed familiar and acceptable, so remember to try, try again. It’s also helpful to introduce a new food in tiny portions, so that little ones can “taste” without being overwhelmed.
Bonnie C. DeVinney of the Greater Rochester Health Foundation, which is very active in combating the problem locally, says, “The younger your children the greater chance you have to influence their behavior. Be a role model — eat healthy — be healthy — it’s good for you, too!”