This was just a small study of 29 kids, ages 3 to 6, and their moms, but the results are significant given the childhood obesity epidemic. For the study, moms reported how hungry they were at mealtimes. Researchers found that women who were overweight or obese tended to be hungrier, and also perceived their child's hunger as higher, and fed them larger portions.
"Because young children have difficulty recognizing when they are full, the more food they are presented at mealtime, the more they are likely to eat," explained lead investigator Sarah Stromberg about the implications of parents serving kids too much food. "If we can start to identify those factors we might be able intervene to help parents develop more appropriate portion sizes for younger kids, which hopefully can lead to a longer life of healthy eating habits," said senior author David Janicke, Ph.D.
The takeaway of the study is important: Just because you are super-hungry at dinner, that doesn't necessarily mean your child is in pig-out mode, too. Indeed, we shouldn't project our hunger on our offspring. But again, it's worth noting this was a small study, and families were not observed in their homes, but rather at a buffet-style offering where moms made up their kids' plates. And who isn't extra hungry (or just curious, or maybe taking advantage of the free food...) at a buffet?
It's also worth noting all participants fed their kids more than the recommended amount of calories for their age, regardless of how the moms rated their own hunger levels—something I'm probably guilty of all the time. If you aren't sure either about how much to serve your children at mealtime, check out choosemyplate.gov to help you hit the right targets. "Using those recommendations can help parents be objective when serving their kids and not base portion sizes on their own hunger or how much they are serving themselves," Stromberg said.
Dr. Janicke also offered this key advice: "Parents decide what to serve their kids and when, but kids still should have a reasonable amount of control over how much they eat. If kids eat an appropriate serving size and are still hungry, they can ask for more."
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.