Encouraging young children to serve themselves at meals is thought to develop social and motor skills, but a new study has found that when children served themselves using large-sized dinnerware they placed more food on their plates and ate more of it.
First graders from 2 classes at an urban elementary school served themselves lunch entrees using either 7.25-inch diameter child-sized plates or 10.25-inch diameter adult-sized plates and side dishes in 8-ounce or 16-ounce bowls. The adult dinnerware represented a 100% increase in surface area and volume, respectively.
Fixed portions of milk and bread were provided to both study children and nonparticipating students. The menu selections were foods regularly offered by the federal National School Lunch Program. Filled plates and bowls were weighed before and after the meal. Children ate at their desks during a 15-minute lunch period and were not allowed to share their meal with others.
Findings showed that the children who used larger dinnerware ate on average 90.1 kilocalories more at lunch than children who used the child-sized plates and bowls. Children ate 104.2 kilocalories more at the meal when they reported liking the entree. Calorie counts also increased for fruits when larger bowls were used, but dinnerware size had no effect on self-served vegetable portions.
Data also showed that food insecurity in the children’s households was a predictor of greater increases in self-served energy consumed compared with children who had food security at home.
The researchers said it is possible that children serve themselves more food when larger dinnerware appears to make portions look smaller. The important distinction is that bigger plates do not appear to directly promote food consumption but instead lead to larger self-served portions that promote eating more. Encouraging parents to use smaller-sized dishes will ensure age-appropriate child portions that in turn will reduce the amount of excess calories in children’s diets.