Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Houston, Texas » Children's Nutrition Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #284770

Title: External influences on children's self-served portions at meals

item FISHER, JENNIFER - Temple University
item BIRCH, LEANN - Pennsylvania State University
item ZHANG, JUN - Advancemed Corporation
item Grusak, Michael
item HUGHES, SHERYL - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)

Submitted to: International Journal of Obesity
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/9/2012
Publication Date: 7/1/2013
Citation: Fisher, J.O., Birch, L.L., Zhang, J., Grusak, M.A., Hughes, S.O. 2013. External influences on children's self-served portions at meals. International Journal of Obesity. 37:954-960.

Interpretive Summary: We know that children will eat more when presented with a larger plate of food. However, we know little about the factors that might determine a child's own self-selected serving of an entree. Thus, we were interested in understanding how the amount of entree and the size of serving spoons might influence a child's self-selected portion sizes. We also questioned whether a mother's feeding style might influence a child's self-selected portions. We set up an experiment in which we offered one of two plate sizes, and either a teaspoon or a tablespoon as a serving spoon, to children aged 4-6 years. We allowed the children to serve themselves at a dinner meal. A hidden balance placed under the table allowed us to weigh their serving sizes. Mothers of the children were given a questionnaire to allow us to determine their style of feeding. We found that children served themselves more food when the size of the available entree was larger. They also served themselves more food when the serving spoon was larger. Greater self-served portions were seen among children whose mothers reported indulgent or authoritarian feeding styles.

Technical Abstract: Large portions promote intake among children, but little is known about external influences of the eating environment on children;s self-selected portion sizes. This research experimentally tested effects of the amount of entree available and serving spoon size on children's self-served entree portions and intakes at dinner meals. A secondary objective was to identify child and family predictors of self-served entree portion sizes. A 2 x 2 within-subjects design was used in which the amount of a pasta entree available for self-serving (275 g vs. 550 g) and the serving spoon size (teaspoon vs. tablespoon) were systematically increased. The serving bowl size and portion sizes of all other foods offered were held constant across conditions. Conditions were spaced one week apart and randomly assigned. Weighed self-served entree portions and food intakes as well as demographics, maternal feeding styles, and child/maternal anthropometrics were measured. Participants were 60 ethnically diverse children aged 4-6 y and their parents. Mixed models revealed that children served themselves 40% more entree when the amount available was doubled (p<0.0001) and 13% more when the serving spoon size was tripled (p<0.05). Serving spoon size and the amount of entree available indirectly influenced children's intake, with larger self-served portion sizes related to greater entree intakes (p<0.0001). Greater self-served portions and energy intakes at the meal were seen among those children whose mothers reported indulgent or authoritarian feeding styles (p<0.001). Children's self-served portion sizes at meals are influenced by the amount of food available and reflect maternal feeding styles.