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Small dishes mean less food for kids, study says

April 10, 2013|By Mary MacVean
  • The size of the dish matters when it comes to how much children eat at school lunches, a study finds.
The size of the dish matters when it comes to how much children eat at school… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

Everyone who has ever read a diet book knows this tip: Use a smaller plate, and you are likely to put less food on it. Now researchers have found the same is true for children taking food at school lunch.

A study showed the “food environment” -- conditions around eating -- counts, the researchers from universities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia said.

The researchers repeatedly watched 42 first-graders serve themselves lunch at school, using plates and bowls of adult size and half as large. The kids put an average of 90 calories more on the larger dishes -- and ate about half of that, the researchers said in this week's journal Pediatrics.

However, big plates don't seem to get kids to eat vegetables. “Dishware size effects on children’s serving behavior were observed for … entrees and the fruit side dish, but interestingly not for the vegetable side dish,” the researchers wrote.

It only makes sense that people put less in less space. What kid wants lunch spilling all over the cafeteria? But the idea behind the study is to give adults some ideas to make school lunchtime nutritionally better.

While it might seem the simple answer is put the adults in charge, the researchers noted there are benefits to allowing children to take their own food, including social and motor skills and autonomy. “Encouraging children to serve themselves as part of family-style meals is widely endorsed by professional and government entities,” they wrote.

In addition, the U.S. government’s dietary guidance uses a plate, the ChooseMyPlate program, to tell people how to eat healthfully.

Previous studies have shown children eat more when they are served more; this one looked at self-service. The researchers watched children take food such as pizza, with its determined serving sizes, and the more amorphous macaroni and cheese.

Time to get out the doll-sized dishes?

@mmacvean on Twitter

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