Preventing Portion Distortion
20 years ago a bagel was 3 inches in diameter and had 150 calories. Today it’s 6 inches and can pack nearly 400 calories.
Portions are on the rise but they not only affect mom and dads’ waistline, kids can fall victim to portion distortion as well.
Here are a few tips you can put into practice to help guide your offerings for your babies and toddlers.
Parent Provides, Child Decides
Many feeding experts and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend taking the "parent provides..child decides" approach when offering food. This simply means parents should offer wholesome, age-appropriate meals and snacks, but that ultimately it is the child who determines how much - and even whether - he eats.
This approach can feel odd at first. If your parents told you to "eat everything on your plate", it can be a bit of a stretch to let your child guide his or her intake. But even clean plate club graduates eventually will agree that the "parent provides, child decides" approach is a wise one. It's also an extension of Ellyn Satter's "Division of Responsibility in Feeding" Theory that says:
- Parents decide what the child eats
- The child decides how much
Balance Your Plate
One of the most frequently asked questions I get from parents new to feeding is, "How much food should I offer my baby?".
If you are practicing baby-led weaning, a good rule of thumb is to offer soft foods cut in matchstick shapes that are approximately the size of an adult's pinky finger. I say start with 2-3 foods on the tray, and work your portions up as your baby become more proficient in eating.
But what sorts of foods to offer? I encourage parents to think of your baby's plate in quadrants. Just like we are supposed to as adults, try to make half of the food you offer fruits or vegetables. Then split the remaining half with carbohydrate containing foods (bread-y foods like grains, sweet potatoes and pasta) and protein.
Relative to their body weight, babies and children need a LOT of carbohydrates. Carbohydrate (those starchy foods) as your baby's body and brain fuel...so choose wholesome options from grains, dairy and fruits and vegetables to serve as smart carbs.
The 3-2-1 Rule
Another rule of thumb that works pretty well for avoiding portion distortion is to keep in mind that in a day, 2-3 year olds should aim to eat:
- 3 ounces of grains (whole grains are preferable)
- 2 ounces of protein
- 1 cup of BOTH fruit and vegetable (for 2 cups total)
For babies, you can use these ratios as a guide, but cut back on the portions at first. You'll notice that as your baby learns more about eating, his breastmilk or formula intake will drop off as food intake rises.
Rethink Your Drink
Don't bail on portions when it comes to beverages! Milk and water are the best bets for babies. The new AAP guidelines say NO juice for babies, and only very small offerings if you're serving juice to bigger kids.
To read my blog post "No Your Baby Does NOT Need Juice" - click here.
Back to drinks - many sippy cups and other kids cups are WAY too big to be filled to the top. A toddler needs only drink 2-3 cups of milk a day. Some don't even get that much - and, provided there are other wholesome foods in the diet, that can be ok.
The problem comes when kids drink way MORE than that amount. It's not uncommon in my practice to see kids drinking 5-6 cups of milk per day. Not only does that promote excess calorie intake, but that amount of milk is likely displacing other high iron content foods that children need.
So get smart about drinks - limiting milk intake to 2-3 cups per day and not offering sugar sweetened beverages or juice if possible. (It's always better to eat your fruit than it is to drink it).
I love these BabyBjorn Baby Cups for helping our quadruplets practice drinking from an open cup. They're perfectly portioned at about 4 ounces, and the weighted bottom makes them easy for the babies to grasp and hold on to. Click the cup image below to learn more.
Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. I do make a small commission based off of products linked to in this post which helps to offset the cost of operating the site.