New research released today has revealed that many Australian parents are at risk of overfeeding their children due to confusion about how much is enough when it comes to appropriate serving sizes for children.
Highlights from the survey, conducted by Galaxy Research and commissioned by Meat & Liverstock Australia, were published today in the Kids and Nutrition Report. The report finds that as many as 70% of mothers with young children admit to feeling unsure about how much food they should give their children in order to meet their nutritional requirements and one in three mums acknowledge they put too much food on their child's plate.
As a result, the majority of Australian youngsters (53%) are leaving food on their plate at least half of the time and a common reaction from Mums is to interpret that behaviour as their child choosing to be a 'difficult' or 'contrary'. Interestingly 82% of all Mums surveyed believed their child is a 'fussy eater'.
According to Dr. Michael Kohn, a leading Sydney pediatrician who specialises in children's eating behaviours, it is highly possible that the majority of these 'fussy eaters' are just being normal kids. "Kids eating behaviours and choices are affected by a broad range of influences. External distractions like TV and sibling issues, likes and dislikes for particular foods, appetite, activity levels and growth all strongly impact the amount of food eaten at meal times," he explained.
"These findings suggest that many Australian parents may be offering their children larger than average portion sizes, or too much food throughout the day, and misreading the cues from their child when food is left on the plate. Not only can this lead to overfeeding but it can also result in rising stress levels and the development of imbalanced attitudes towards food and unhealthy eating habits which can persist into adulthood," he added.
previous scientific research has highlighted the dangers of getting portion sizes for children wrong. A US study published in 2003 found that when offered more food than they need, young children will eat up to 25% more food and 15% more calories in one sitting.
"Children develop attitudes towards food and eating patterns very early on in life. Parents need to be reassured that children have a tremendous capacity to self regulate their food intake ensuring adequate energy and nutrition, despite sometimes appearing to be fussy or restrictive eaters to those around them. It's important that parents continue to offer what they know their child needs, and not what their child wants," Dr Kohn encourages.
"To allow healthy attitudes towards food to develop, parent should allow their child to choose how much he or she wishes to eat from a range of healthy food provided. If food rejection does occur, parents should remain calm and not rush off to find an immediate alternative," Dr Kohn advises.
This approach lies in stark contrast to the most common tactics parents admit to in an effort to persuade their children to clean up their plate. According to the Kids and Nutrition Report, 44% of Mums use dessert as a bargaining tool and 39% say they have 'a few stern words'.
So while fussy eating or only eating a few bites at meal-times may be normal behaviour for young children, for many parents it adds to anxiety levels. At the end of the nightly meal 8 out of 10 mother say they are unsure if their child's nutritional needs have been met and 68% wonder if the child has eaten enough to meet their energy levels.
"Worry and parenting do often go hand in hand. One of the best ways to eliminate anxiety around a child's nutritional wellbeing is to make sure the foods provided count, that is, making sure they are not only healthy but nutrient-rich. This means low in energy but rich in those nutrients required for health and growth, wholegrains, low fat dairy products, fruit and vegetables and lean red meant," explained Dr Kohn.
"In Australia, lean red meat (beef and lamb) is an important source of well-absorbed iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3s with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommending 3-4 serves per week," noted Dr Kohn.
"If your child will only eat a few bites at meal-times, choose nutrient-rich foods, and make every bit count." Dr Michael Kohn.A Guide to Portion Sizes for Kids
By the age of four, children should be eating a variety of food from each of the five food groups. The following daily serves and portion sizes are recommended for children between 4-7 years of age.
Serves Per Day
Cereals and grains: 3-7
Other foods: 0-2
Cereal and grains:
1 serve= 2 slices of bread
or 1 cup of cooked rice, pasta, noodles
or 2 cup of porridge
or 1 1/3 cups of breakfast cereal
or ½ cup of muesli
1 serve= 1 medium piece, such as an apple
or 2 small pieces of fruit such as 2 plums
or 1 cup of chopped fruit
1 serve= 1 medium piece such as a potato
or ½ cup of cooked vegetables
or 1 cup of salad vegetables
1 serve= 1 cup of milk (250ml)
or 2 slices of cheese
or 1 small carton (200gm) of yogurt
Meat, eggs, fish, legumes and nuts:
Enjoy lean red meat 3-4 times a week
Try to eat fish 1-2 times a week
1 serve of meat = 65- 100 grams of lean red meat/chicken
or ½ cup of cooked beef mince
or 2 small lamb chops
or 2 slices of roast beef
or 2 small eggs
1 serve of fish = 1 fish fillet roughly the size of your child's hand
1 serve of legumes= ½ cup of cooked lentils, chickpeas, or canned beans
1 serve of nuts = 1/3 cup of peanuts or almonds or ¼ cup of sunflower or sesame seeds.
which are not needed for healthy growth and development should be consumed only sometimes and in small amounts.
1 serve = 3-4 sweet biscuits
or 1 slice of cake
or ½ a bar of chocolate
or 30 grams of potato chips
or 1 tablespoon of butter
Making Meal Times Manageable:
For many parents meal times can be the most stressful part of the day as children become tired and getting them to eat what's good for them can be a struggle. To help relieve some of the strain try using these useful hints and tips:
Establish a routine: children respond well to routines. Tyr and establish a regular time and place for meal times. Feed small children dinner early, as tired children are a recipe for disaster.
Be patient: table manners are a learned skill and what adults may consider disgusting is sometimes part of children naturally learning about food. Touching, squishing and spitting out food are all normal behaviours that will diminish with age. By the age of five children should be practicing basic table manners most of the time.
Try to remain calm: when children start misbehaving. Food that is thrown should not be picked up when they are watching and a firm 'no' is the best response. For older children, give them a warning followed by a clear consequence such as removing food or asking them to leave the table.
Listen to your child: don't force a child to continue eating if they say they are full. They will instinctively know how much food to eat (but not which foods and in what quantity).
Vary food to your advantage: when children are hungry is the best time to experiment with new foods, combine new flavours with foods they enjoy, or with food from your own plate- other people's food always tastes better.
Get your kids involved: let them help make the salad, set the table or serve themselves. Kids will often eat something they've had a hand in making.
Consult your doctor or dietitian: if you're constantly forcing your child to eat and they seem to be lacking in energy.
The Kid and Nutrition Report, contains valuable information on children's eating behaviours, a list of common nutrient rich foods, kid friendly recipes and a guide to children's portion sizes. It can be downloaded free of charge from www.themainmel.com.au
This survey was conducted online by Galaxy Research in Australia in February 2008 among 305 mothers of children aged 1-7 years. The data was weighted by age and area to reflect ABS population estimates.