Most parents know that kids need to follow a balanced diet that includes all major food groups for their healthy growth and development. However, portion size plays an important role in balanced diets. Serving sizes come in handy for this, as they indicate the ideal amounts of each food item. So, if you are not sure how much food should be included in each serving, your child might end up eating more than is necessary.

A serving size is defined by various measurements like ounces, cups or tablespoons. Manufacturers of food products provide the serving size along with nutritional facts on the package label to guide consumers. This is based on the composition of each food product. A portion is the amount of food that is present on the child’s plate during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It reflects the actual amount of food that the kid chooses to eat.

Here are some helpful tips for teaching portion control:

1. Use a small plate for the child

Children will need smaller portions than adults. An easy way to get used to serving these smaller portions is by using smaller utensils like plates, cups, etc. If you can get colourful plates which have exciting prints, it helps to make mealtimes fun. Or, you can choose a plate that features compartments for each food group - grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein.

2. Use helpful cues to visualize portions

Identifying the right amount of food is very challenging. For example, how much is 4 ounces of chicken or one-half cup of pasta? However, you don’t have to get stressed with all these details. The following portion control chart provides some examples to guide both you and your child

Food item Recommended portion size Around the size of
Bread 1 ounce or 2 slices The size of a DVD cover
Cereal 1 ounce or 1 cup Size of a cricket ball
Rice 1 ounce or half cup Size of a closed fist
Fruits 1 small fruit/chopped fruits The size of a tennis ball
Vegetable salad 1 cup The size of a cricket ball
Chicken 3 ounces The size of a deck of cards
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons Around the size of a ping-pong ball used in table tennis

3. Make them understand the signs of hunger and satiety

Kids need to recognize hunger signals and also figure out when they are full. So, teach them about the signs. They should know when to stop eating and should understand that it is alright to stop even if there is food left on their plate. Remember that the behaviour of children at a young age can shape eating habits as an adult.

4. Order half of the amount

If you are eating out or ordering food home, ask for half the amount of the adult meal for your child, to limit the portion, or you can divide it yourself. The remaining amount can be packed or kept aside for a second meal.

5. Serve in containers with compartments

Kids should consume the right food groups in the right amounts. For this, you can provide snacks to your child in a box designed with compartments. One compartment can have fresh vegetables while the other can have fruits, yogurt, etc. This can also help them understand the value of each food group.

6. Allow them to make their own snack pack

Make your kids choose from various healthy items and make their own snack packs. They can also get creative and decorate their pack with stickers and colours. This way, the task will seem fun.

Knowing where to begin with portion sizes is a great way to model healthy portion sizes, this is particularly important since in India most meals are served “family style”. It helps not to think of portions as food restriction — they are not. Think of portions as a way to model a healthy balance of food and nutrients. Ultimately, children should eat an amount of food that leaves them satisfied within the scope of varied foods from the different food groups.