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You may never have to bribe your children to eat their broccoli again. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that putting less of the “yummy” stuff on their plates could get children to eat more of the things that you want them to—fruits and vegetables.
According to the USDA’s new MyPlate guidelines, half of the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, and the other half should be split between lean protein and whole grains.
Even though these recommendations are much easier to understand than the food pyramids of the past, most children still aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables in their diets. One study estimated that 50% of children between two and five years old ate enough fruit, and only 22% met the recommendation for daily vegetable consumption.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, designed a study to investigate the effects of entrée portion size on the amount of different foods eaten at mealtime.
Seventeen children between three and six years old took part in the study. On separate days, the children were given lunches with six different entrée portion sizes of macaroni and cheese. They were also given green beans with butter, unsweetened applesauce, and a whole wheat roll. The children’s height and weight were measured and the amount of each food eaten was recorded at each meal.
As entrée portions increased, the amount of entrée eaten went up. At the same time, the amount of other foods eaten went down, including fruits and vegetables. “Children filled up and became satiated by eating the main dish and chose to forego the less-energy-dense, less-well-liked foods such as fruits and vegetables,” said lead study author, Jennifer Savage, of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Pennsylvania State University.
When the children were given the smallest entrée portion sizes, they ate 90% more of the other foods (green beans, applesauce, and roll) and 63% less of the macaroni and cheese than they did when they were given the largest entrée size.
Overweight children tended to eat more of the larger meals, potentially adding to their weight problem.
In addition to smaller entrée sizes, try these tips to squeeze more produce into your children:
(Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:335–41)