Am I Overfeeding My Child? Tips on Portion Control for All Ages
As adults, it is exceptionally easy to overeat. Our stomachs stretch over time and it is possible to overeat easily. An extra snack or mouthful here and there means that over time we get used to, and expect more food than we actually need. The same can be said when it comes to feeding small children. Parents are generally petrified at the thought of not feeding their little one enough which can very quickly translate into regularly overeating and weight issues. So how do you know if you are overfeeding your toddler or young child? Here are some reference points and portion guides to help you.
Don’t base meal size on age
Children between the ages of 12 months and four years will have differing appetites based on their stage of growth, activity level, time of day and a random assortment of other factors. There is never a set amount of food they will need to consume at any one time – it will differ on a daily basis. What we should remember though is that children under the age of five are naturally very good regulators of their calorie intake, not over the course of a day but over the course of a week. What this means is that while they may appear to eat very little some days, they will make up for it on others. As parents, the best thing we can do is to offer nutritionally balanced meals at regular intervals and allow children to determine how much they will consume.
While a grazing style of feeding is often seen throughout the day with small children, this can promote overeating. When small children are offered sweet foods such as fruit, crackers or biscuits too frequently – like every hour or two – they get used to seeking these sweet tastes regularly, rather than waiting to feel hungry before eating. Offering food too regularly can also teach small children to seek out food when they are tired, bored or needing to be distracted rather than eating when they are really hungry.
Timing of meals
To help avoid this habitual overeating, aim to allow between two and three hours in between feeding occasions. For the average toddler this will translate into an early breakfast, small morning snack at about 9am, early lunch, a small snack at 2pm or 3pm and an early dinner. If you have later dinners in your household, small children may also need a late afternoon snack. Toddlers and small children have a stomach which can hold roughly 500ml or two small tea cups of food. For this reason, meal sizes should be roughly 1.5 cups in size at most, or a small plate for main meals. Protein portions should equate to just 30-50g, or half your palm, along with one or two tablespoons of carbohydrate based food and at least half a cup of vegetables. If you find that your child appears to still be hungry after their meal, offer some extra water and wait a few minutes before offering a little more (about one or two tablespoons) of the meal. If they still appear hungry, offering a small serve of fruit, milk or yoghurt are the best options.
Is your child overeating?Signs your child may be overeating on a regular basis include them constantly asking for food, eating extra and then vomiting, growing too quickly or wearing clothes an age or two above their actual age or if their weight is much greater than their height on their growth chart. Another sign is if they reject less appealing foods such as fruit or vegetables when they want more food. This would suggest that they are not hungry, rather keen to eat more of what they like. If you do establish that your little one is overeating, it is important to reduce their portions slightly rather than refuse them extra food which may drive their interest in eating. Once you offer them small portions, when they ask for more you can serve them what they would previously had consumed which will help to reduce their overall calorie intake. Offering extra vegetables is another tip as is making sure they are not consuming too much fruit (one or two pieces per day is enough) or milk (no more than 600ml each day). For more of my blog posts on kids feeding, essential nutrients and portion control, see below: