Passing bowls family-style teaches day-care kids to respond to hunger cues, fights obesity

January 13, 2014

When children and child-care providers sit around a table together at mealtime, passing bowls and serving themselves, children learn to recognize when they are full better than they do when food is pre-plated for them, reports a new University of Illinois study of feeding practices of two- to five-year-old children in 118 child-care centers.

"Family-style meals give kids a chance to learn about things like portion size and food preferences. When foods are pre-plated, children never develop the ability to read their body's hunger cues. They don't learn to say, okay, this is an appropriate for me," said Brent McBride, director of the U of I Child Development Laboratory and lead author of the study.

The study found that Head Start centers were in significantly greater compliance with this and other Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics benchmarks than other centers surveyed, including participants in the USDA's supplemental nutrition assistance program CACFP, and non-CACFP state-licensed centers.

The academy's benchmarks were issued in 2011 to combat the problem of child obesity. One in four preschool children is overweight or obese, and more than 12 million preschoolers consume up to five meals or snacks daily at the nation's child-care centers, McBride said.

"The academy also recommends that providers eat with children so they can model healthy behaviors, which Head Start staff are required to do," said Dipti A. Dev, a U of I graduate student in nutritional sciences.

Teachers are also asked not to pressure children to take one or two more bites or finish a serving before another food or activity is offered, she said.

The researchers said that providers need to help children recognize their feelings of hunger and fullness.

"Instead of asking Are you done? teachers should ask children, Are you full? Or they should say, If you're hungry, you can have some more, explained Dev, who is developing a packet of best feeding practices to share with providers.

"Asking the right questions can help children listen to their hunger and satiety signals," she said.

The Illinois research is the first study to evaluate whether child-care providers are adhering to the academy's guidelines for feeding practices. Most providers did promote healthy feeding by serving nutritious foods and not pressuring children to eat or restricting them from eating. Head Start programs stood out though as having the best policies and .

In fact, Head Start teachers who use family-style meals are strong advocates for them, the researchers said.

"Teachers who don't do family-style meals have all these reasons that they don't: there's too much waste, it's messy, young kids don't have the developmental skills—the fine motor control—to do that," McBride said.

"But Head Start teachers were telling us ways you could help develop those fine motor skills: for instance, using scoops in the sandbox or pouring water in the water table," he added.

"When you first do easel painting with a two-year-old, it's really messy because they don't have fine motor control, but you still do it even though it's messy. The same thing is true for family-style meal service. It may be messy at first until they develop the appropriate skills and learn to pour the right way or hold the cup as they're pouring. It's a developmental progression," he said.

If children don't want to eat, teachers shouldn't urge them to eat anyway out of concern that the kids may get hungry before the next meal or snack is served, he said.

"If a child doesn't eat at one meal, he'll compensate for it over a 24-hour period. Making kids eat when they're not hungry is probably the worst thing you can do. It teaches them not to pay attention to their body's signals," Dev said.

Explore further: New study highlights how child care providers can be part of the solution for childhood obesity

More information: "Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Benchmarks for Nutrition in Child Care 2011: Are Child-Care Providers across Contexts Meeting Recommendations?" was published in the October 2013 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Related Stories

New study highlights how child care providers can be part of the solution for childhood obesity

November 8, 2012
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys revealed that over 21% of children 2 to 5 years old were considered overweight or obese. Child care settings can serve as a platform to teach children about nutrition ...

School lunches helping children from getting too-salty diets

January 7, 2014
New findings show that many Americans are at risk for high blood pressure because of too much sodium in our diets—and the risk is especially high for children.

Extrovert and introvert children are not equally influenced by plate size

November 25, 2013
As dish size increases, so do portion size and the amount of food actually eaten—but could personality traits play a role in how susceptible people are to this plate-size bias? New research by the Cornell Food and Brand ...

New insight on relationship between parents, preschoolers and obesity

February 8, 2013
While sugary drinks, lack of exercise and genetics contribute to a growing number of overweight American children, new research from Washington State University reveals how a mom's eating habits and behavior at the dinner ...

What preschoolers know about healthy eating

November 13, 2013
When you hand a preschooler a donut, does she know it's junk food? The answer is yes, says University of Michigan researcher Kristen Harrison.

'Clean your plate' orders from parents may backfire for kids

April 22, 2013
(HealthDay)—Although you might think being a member of the "clean plate club" is something that stops when a child is young, new research suggests that up to two-thirds of parents still encourage teenagers to finish all ...

Recommended for you

Kids with weight issues at high risk of emotional and behavioural problems

August 10, 2017
A new, in-depth study of New Zealand children and teenagers seeking help with weight issues has found their emotional health and wellbeing is, on average, markedly worse than that of children without weight issues.

Study finds 90 percent of American men overfat

July 24, 2017
Does your waist measure more than half your height?

Are sugary drink interventions changing people's behaviour?

July 19, 2017
An evaluation of efforts designed to reduce how many sugary drinks we consume shows some success in changing younger people's habits but warns they cannot be the only way to cut consumption.

Young adult obesity: A neglected, yet essential focus to reverse the obesity epidemic

July 18, 2017
The overall burden of the U.S. obesity epidemic continues to require new thinking. Prevention of obesity in young adults, while largely ignored as a target for prevention and study, will be critical to reversing the epidemic, ...

Weight gain from early to middle adulthood may increase risk of major chronic diseases

July 18, 2017
Cumulative weight gain over the course of early and middle adulthood may increase health risks later in life, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They found that, compared ...

Study finds children carry implicit bias towards peers who are overweight

June 23, 2017
Even children as young as 9 years old can carry a prejudice against their peers who are overweight, according to a new study led by Duke Health researchers. They might not even realize they feel this way.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.