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Feature Articles: Weight Control

Self-Serve vs. Being Served

Karma Metzgar, C.F.C.S. Former Northwest Regional Nutrition Specialist in Nodaway County, University of Missouri Extension


If you are the type who likes to serve yourself at the table-that's a wise habit to have. If you are frequently served your portion-whether away from home or at home-the waist will show your habit!

Boy enjoying spaghetti


Experts from the United States Department of Agriculture Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) at Baylor College of Medicine have recently shared some insight on self-serve vs. being served when it comes to helping sizes. With the super size and all you can eat options we have, I thought the researchers findings were worth sharing.

Parents who avoid piling oversized portions on children's plates could be helping their pint-size diners avoid super-sized appetites and whopper waistlines. Portion sizes definitely affects how much kids eat, according to CNRC's behavioral nutrition scientist, Dr. Jennifer Fisher.

"Preschoolers in our study ate an average of 25 percent more macaroni and cheese when the lunchtime serving was doubled," Fisher said.

Since eating more mac-and-cheese didn't curb the youngster's appetites for other foods, Fisher found that average lunchtime calorie counts jumped a belt-busting 15 percent on days when the entrée was super-sized.

"The power of large portions to encourage overeating among young children is a warning flag," Fisher said. "Because not only do today's families eat out and take-out more often than in the past, but restaurant, beverage and snack food portions keep getting bigger."

However, Fisher also noted that the children did not all respond the same when served heaping helpings. While some ate as much at 60 to 80 percent more, others ate about the same amount regardless of the portion size served.

"We don't know why some children were more susceptible to large portions," she said. "However, the children most responsive to large portions were also those who consumed the greatest amount of snack foods in the absence of hunger during another phase of the study. We also found that overeaters tended to consume their extra calories not by eating faster, but by taking bigger bites."

According to Fisher, the study findings suggest a link between an increased susceptibility to external eating cues like super-sized portions and a diminished ability to recognize or respond to internal hunger and fullness cues.

"Interestingly, we also found that large portions seem to lose the power to promote overeating when children are allowed to serve themselves," Fisher said. When the super-sized entrees were in serving bowls instead of piled on children's plates, the amount the children served themselves and ate mirrored the amount they typically consumed when served "single-sized" entrees.

"Young children are not immune to the power of large portions," she said. "But, simple mealtime strategies like encouraging 'small bites' and serving family-style meals can help kids avoid the temptations to overeat."

What is the take home message from this research? We would all do better on controlling our intake if we served ourselves-family style. We also need to resign from the clean plate or paper bag syndrome. Simply stop eating when you are full and don't measure your hunger by the portion size or empty container.



Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








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