Portion Caution for Kids

Portion Caution for Kids

What portion sizes are you giving your kids? A Nutritionist gives her recommendations for kids’ serving sizes.

In an ideal world, parents wouldn’t need to measure out portions of basic everyday foods. While parents decide what kids eat and when, the amounts served of staples such as vegetables, meat, porridge, cheese or bread should be up to the child.

Most young children know innately how much food it takes to make them feel full and satisfied, after which they stop eating. Sadly, this changes as they grow up and are exposed to huge portion sizes, junk-food advertising and the ever-increasing availability of food, everywhere from cinemas to petrol stations, newsagents and railway platforms.

In one US experiment, researchers showed you could entice older kids to eat more than an appropriate amount by simply ladling out more on the plate, but not children under the age of five. Younger ones seem to be more sensitive to their own signals of satiety than older children, meaning they are more likely to stop eating when full, regardless of external cues such as what’s left uneaten on their plate.

With junk food so widely available, it’s easy for kids to put on weight, so here is a basic guide on how much to feed them:

These suggestions are taken from the draft Australian Guide to Healthy Eating published in late 2011 (to be finalised). Please note there are no set amounts for babies under two, as milk is such a large part of their nutritional intake and their nutritional needs vary depending on stages of development.

Children two to three years (girls and boys)

Vegetables and legumes
2½ serves a day

Fruit
1 serve a day

Grains
4 serves a day

Protein (or alternatives such as legumes for vegetarians)
1 serve a day

Dairy
1½ serves a day

Fats and oils
½ serve a day

Additional foods
0 to 1 serve a day

 

Children four to eight years (girls and boys)

Vegetables and legumes
4½ serves a day

Fruit
1 to 1½ serves a day

Grains
4 serves a day

Protein (or alternatives such as legumes for vegetarians)
1½ serves a day

Dairy
1½ to 2 serves a day

Fats and oils
1 serve a day

Additional foods
0 to 2½ serves a day

Children nine to 11 years (girls and boys)

Vegetables and legumes
5 serves a day

Fruit
2 serves a day

Grains
4 to 5 serves a day

Protein (or alternatives such as legumes for vegetarians)
2½ serves a day

Dairy
2½ to 3 serves a day

Fats and oils
1 serve a day

Additional foods
0 to 3 serves a day

Children 12 to 13 years (girls and boys)

Vegetables and legumes
5 to 5½ serves a day

Fruit
2 serves a day

Grains
5 to 6 serves a day

Protein (or alternatives such as legumes for vegetarians)
2½ serves a day

Dairy
3½ serves a day

Fats and oils
1½ serves a day

Additional foods
0 to 3 serves a day

Teenagers 14 to 18 years (girls and boys)

Vegetables and legumes
5 to 5½ serves a day

Fruit
2 serves a day

Grains
7 serves a day

Protein (or alternatives such as legumes for vegetarians)
2½ serves a day

Dairy
3½ serves a day

Fats and oils
2 serves a day

Additional foods
0 to 5 serves a day

What is one serve?

Vegetables and legumes

  • ½ cup (75g) cooked vegetables such as broccoli, beans, peas etc.
  • 1 tomato or 3 to 4 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup salad leaves
  • ¼ cup legumes (dried beans, peas or lentils)
  • 75g starchy vegetables (such as 1 small or ½ medium potato or equivalent of sweet potato, taro, sweet corn or cassava)

Fruit

  • 1 medium apple, banana, mandarin or pear
  • 2 plums, apricots or kiwifruit
  • 1 cup fruit salad or canned fruit
  • 30g dried fruit (such as 4 dried apricot halves or 1½ tablespoons sultanas)
  • ½ cup (125ml) unsweetened 100% fruit juice

Grains and cereals (ideally wholegrain)

  • 1 slice bread
  • ½ bread roll
  • ¼ cup cooked rice, pasta or noodles
  • ⅔ cup (30g) breakfast cereal flakes or popped rice
  • ½ cup cooked porridge
  • 2 thin rice or corn cakes
  • 1 crumpet or English-style muffin
  • 3 medium crispbreads

Protein

  • 65g meat
  • ½ cup lean mince
  • 2 slices (90-100g) roast meat
  • 1 medium chop
  • 80g chicken, pork or veal
  • 100g fish
  • 100g canned tuna or salmon
  • 2 eggs

Vegetarian protein alternatives (if meat is not eaten)

  • 170g tofu
  • 1 cup (170g) cooked dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas or canned beans
  • 30g (handful) nuts

Dairy full-fat or low-fat (not skim) 

  • 1 cup (250ml) milk
  • ½ cup (125ml) evaporated unsweetened milk
  • 1 tub (200g) yoghurt, plain or fruit
  • 2 slices cheese or 40g wedge
  • 120g ricotta cheese

Also included but not in its own group:

  • Fats and oils
  • 7-10g unsaturated spreads or oils, nuts or seeds.

Additional foods

You can supplement the child’s diet with items from the five food groups, or extras in small quantities such as sweet biscuits, cake or bun, small chocolate bar, potato crisps, soft drink or cordial, ice-cream or confectionery. These are not healthy fare, but make up the kilojoule intake for active children or for those who are taller or in the higher end of an age band.

Serving healthy portions

  • Avoid serving children large portions. Older children (and adults) eat more when served large portions, and may try to finish what’s on their plate to please people. I have trained myself to stop when I’m almost full, but I realise it’s hard when eating out or at a buffet where there’s more food than the group could ever finish.
  • Let kids leave food uneaten on the plate if they are full.
  • Teach your kids to be aware of feelings of hunger and fullness. I use a scale from zero (empty) to 10 (stuffed). This will let them have a comfortable relationship with food and avoid over-eating as they grow older. You can download my Hunger Fullness Log to help with this.
  • A good approach is to serve everything on the table and let the kids point to what they want or serve themselves when they’re old enough. Encourage them to eat until they are comfortably full. If they are still hungry, let them have seconds.
  • Set a good example yourself. Sit down to eat, serve yourself plenty of vegetables or salad and let your kids know how much you enjoy them. Always offer plenty of water.

Catherine Saxelby is an accredited dietitian and nutritionist and author of The Complete Food and Nutrition Companion. You can read more of her nutrition advice at her website, foodwatch.

Words by Catherine Saxelby

 

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