The muffin you ate for breakfast in elementary school was a crumb compared to today's sci-fi-sized baked goods. Blame it on the supersizing phenomenon. Food manufacturers, seizing on Americans' belief that bigger is better, increased products' heft. Restaurants started serving heaping platefuls. This marketing strategy has been hugely successful—but it's also helping to make our kids huge. Studies have shown that when a bigger portion is served to a child age 2 or older, he'll often eat more, if not all.
A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed portion sizes of drinks, desserts, fries, pizza, and burgers from 1977 to 2006, and found a few jaw-dropping jumps.Thanks to today's generous servings, these no- to low-nutrient foods now make up about one-third of 2- to 12-year-olds' diets. “We may have eaten some junky foods when we were children, too, but the portions were so much smaller,” explains Lara Field, R.D., a pediatric dietitian at the University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital and the founder of feedkids.com.
What YOU Can Do
Cut premade foods into halves, thirds, or quarters before your child even sees them. (Still worried you'll starve him? Consider this: Many cookies today are 700 percent bigger than what was typical in the 1970s; your average muffin is 333 percent larger than it should be.) When you're measuring food, keep portion-size guidelines in mind (see “Measure Up,” below). Of course, you won't always be around when your kids grab a bite, so give them some basic rules. “I tell kids to use the palm of their hand—not including fingers—to gauge portion sizes for chicken, beef, fish, and tofu,” says Field. “For snacks, I tell them not to eat more than they can grab in one hand.” (Note: That plastic bag you pack with crackers for your child's snack holds way more!)
Another trick: Buy smaller dishware. Cornell University scientists proved we eat and drink less when using diminutive plates, bowls, and glasses.