According to the NIH, more than two out of every three American adults is overweight or obese. With the obesity epidemic spreading rapidly across the country, it is up to parents to teach their children how to follow a healthy diet so they don’t follow in the same footsteps. A healthy diet is about more than just making smart choices for what to eat – it is also about knowing how much to eat. If you can teach your child proper portion control while they are young, they stand a better chance of developing and maintaining healthy eating habits into adulthood.
Why is Portion Control Important?
Just a few decades ago, the number of obese American adults was much lower. In recent years, however, portion sizes have begun to increase and more and more Americans are struggling with overweight and obesity. Many people blame their excess weight on unhealthy meal options such as fast food and frozen dinners. These foods may be high in sugar, fat, and salt but they are only part of the problem. Another factor that contributes to obesity is lack of self-control, specifically a lack of portion control. There is nothing wrong with occasionally indulging in unhealthy foods, as long as you do so in moderation – that means controlling your portions.
How exactly have portion sizes changed over the years? Two decades ago, the average bagel measured about three inches in diameter and contained 140 calories. Today, the average bagel is twice the size and contains about 350 calories – a single bagel contains three servings of grains. It isn’t just the foods you buy at the grocery store that have changed – it’s also in restaurants. Portion sizes have exploded with many restaurants offering “bottomless” sides or never-ending pasta bowls. And movie theaters will double the size of your drink for just a quarter more. Even car manufacturers have started to adjust to new portion sizes by making their cup holders bigger.
Tips for Controlling Your Child’s Portions
While your child is still young, he relies on you to feed him – this gives you some degree of control over what kind of eating habits your child learns. One of the main reasons kids learn to eat too much is that they simply eat what is on their plate. You can start to teach your child proper nutrition and portion control by offering him smaller portions – it is really that simple. Reading the food label will help you to determine what the proper portion size is. Keep in mind, however, that food labels won’t tell you which foods you need for a healthy and balanced diet, they just provide nutritional information about that specific product. It is up to you to know and teach your child what a healthy diet looks like.
One way to help teach your child portion control is to make an effort to create nutritional balance at every meal. Take the plate you serve your meals on and divide it into four sections. Fill one section with protein and another with starch, preferably a healthy whole grain. The remaining two sections should both be made up of vegetables, or one vegetable and one fruit. Make sure that when you serve the meal you partition the plate in this way and don’t serve so much that the food from any of the sections is piled on top of another food. By serving your child’s meals this way, they will come to learn what a healthy diet looks like as well as what proper portions look like.
Additional Tips for Teaching Portion Control
As your children start to get older, they’ll begin to make their own food choices. You can still play a role in teaching proper eating habits, however – here are some simple tips for teaching portion control:
- Talk to your kids about what a healthy diet looks like and teach them about the divided plate method.
- Serve your child’s meals on smaller plates so the portions look larger.
- When putting away leftovers after a meal, portion them out into smaller containers to make it easier to make a healthy choice later.
- Don’t let your kids eat from the container for sugary treats and snack foods like chips or popcorn – have them portion it out into a bowl or onto a plate.
- Serve up meals at the counter or stove instead of putting everything in giant serving containers on the table.
- Try to include more salads and healthy side dishes in your family’s diet – you can also try serving salad before a meal.
- When eating at a restaurant encourage sharing meals or putting half of it in a to-go container before you start eating.
It is never too early to start teaching your kids healthy habits, especially when it comes to food. The habits your child develops early on will play a major role in the habits he adopts later in life so do yourself and your child a favor by teaching him proper portion control.
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