Feeding preschoolers smaller portions of the main dish at lunchtime means they'll eat more fruit and vegetables on the side and fewer total calories, according to a new study.
Researchers said the finding may give parents one extra strategy to encourage youngsters to eat more greens.
Experts say parents need to be careful and use the age-appropriate servings for the main course. If kids fill up on the entrée, the fruit and the vegetable are the last to get eaten.
Parents can make sure they're providing the right amount of food both by inspecting what's left in the lunch box when kids come home, and by talking to their kids about how much they eat.
For the new study, researchers at a Pennsylvania preschool served 17 kids six different variations of the same meal, one day each week for lunch. The meals had anywhere from less than half a cup to more than a cup and a half of macaroni and cheese, the main dish.
That was presented along with plenty of green beans and unsweetened applesauce, plus a whole grain roll and milk.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that the bigger the entrée size, the more mac and cheese -- and the less of the healthy side dishes -- kids ate.
Preschoolers finished almost all of their smallest portion of mac and cheese, for an average of about 145 calories. But they still ate the majority of much bigger portions, and put away 390 calories worth of the main course when they started with the most on their plate.
When they were served the smallest entrée, kids ate almost half of their healthy side dishes, including fruits and veggies, compared to only a quarter when they were served the biggest mac and cheese portion.
Kids' total lunchtime calorie counts varied based on entrée size as well: they ate an average of 506 calories with the biggest portion, and 315 with the smallest.
If you give a child an option for a large portion of an entrée that they really like, they will eat that more and they'll fill up. They'll reach their satiety point and they'll just stop eating.
SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online December 28, 2011.
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