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Kids Given Big Plates Help Themselves to More Food

Plate size and self-serving increased first-graders' food intake, researchers found
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The child's body-mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) didn't seem to predict who would take more food, the researchers found.

It was the child's liking for the food that predicted what they would serve themselves. Those who liked the entree helped themselves to about 104 calories more at the meal.

The study results showed, DiSantis said, "that children look to their environment for some direction when put in the position of making decisions about how much food to serve themselves."

In the study, the differences in calories were not large, she acknowledged. "But if this went on on a daily basis, it could contribute to the child's overall energy intake and their weight status," she said.

Using smaller plates might give children guidance on portion sizes, she said.

A nutrition expert who reviewed the study downplayed the role of plate size, while not dismissing it entirely.

"In the end, it's the portion that's served rather than the plate size -- and whether or not the child likes the food -- that influences how much they eat and how much they serve themselves," said Marjorie Freeman, associate professor of nutrition, food science and packaging at San Jose State University in California. In her own research, she has found that as portion size increases, so does the amount you eat.

Freeman suggested that parents follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommendations, which suggest filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables.

Parents also can choose plate sizes for serving their children based on what will be on the plate. "For foods you want them to eat a lot of, such as fruits and vegetables, I'd put it on larger plates," she said.

The fried chicken nuggets, she added, could be served on a small plate.

The study authors noted that the kids in the experiment served themselves more fruit on their large plates, but not more vegetables.

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