URBANA, Ill. 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 portion size 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,
|Contact: Phyllis Picklesimer|
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences