A newly-released meal size guide for children and toddlers suggests that parents in the United Kingdom need to cut down on portion size, as preschool children are increasingly at risk of becoming obese in part because adults are overfeeding children.
A survey of 1,000 British parents has discovered that 79% are offering their child adult-sized meal portions of popular foods such as spaghetti and cheese sandwiches, according to the Infant and Toddler Forum.
In an effort to help parents determine the correct portion sizes for their children, the forum has released an illustrated guide that shows what how much food is considered to be a serving size by age group in addition to a food tracker along with its #rethinktoddlerportionsizes campaign. The photographs make it easy for parents to see exactly how many spoonfuls or slices should be served at each meal.
The guidelines suggest no more than five tablespoons of pasta, five tablespoons of rice, or four tablespoons of mashed potato should be offered to a child between the ages of one and four. In addition, it warns that toddlers should not be allowed to consume too many raisins or cornflakes “because of their sugar content,” adding that sweets and chocolate should only be offered “once a week.”
It is recommended that toddlers be offered processed ham, sausages, and minced meat, as well as fresh fish and eggs, in reasonable portions.
Judy More, pediatric dietician and member of the ITF, told the Independent: “We felt it was time to put out some clear information so parents feel more confident with what portions they are giving their children.
“A big part of this has been reassuring parents that they are in fact feeding their children enough, as this has emerged as a major concern for them. The portions we are suggesting date back to a time in the 1990s, when childhood obesity was not such a problem as it is now.
“We always say to parents, if your child is gaining weight safely and gradually, that is perfectly healthy and you should always allow them to eat to their appetite.”
The survey also found a total of 36% of parents report the use of unhealthy foods and beverages as a “pacifier” in order to keep their young children calm. Only 25% said they were concerned about their child becoming obese as a result.
Meanwhile, 73% of parents said they felt their child did not eat enough. 71% admitted to regularly offering their child a larger portion of crisps than was recommended, reports Gabriel Samuels for The Independent. More than one third said they gave their child a full bag of crisps, more than twice the suggested amount.
While close to 45% said they would allow their child to eat crisps two or three times per week, 17% gave them four to six times a week and 6% said their child ate crisps every day.
Only two out of every ten parents said they limited crisp consumption to once a week, writes Rosie Taylor for The Daily Mail.
Gill Harris, a child psychologist and ITF member, said that while toddlers are typically able to self-regulate their food intake more easily than parents or older children, portion size can greatly affect this ability. He added that when a person is routinely offered larger portions, they quickly associate that with a “normal” meal. If these habits are learned early in life, they can persist as a person grows older.
Data from the National Child Measurement Program released last year found over one-fifth of pre-school children in Britain to be either overweight or obese. By the time children reached the age of 11, 33% were found to be above the recommended weight.
Researchers from King’s College London announced in May that no link was found between eating dinner at 8pm and obesity in children despite a common concern to the contrary.