Are We Overfeeding Our Children?

Did you know that 40g of pasta is the recommended portion size for a child aged between 5 and 11 years old? FORTY GRAMS.

I urge you to measure out that quantity of pasta, and try not to let your chin hit the floor when you do it.

Or take a look at picture on the right. Yes, that's 40g, and that's all the pasta your child needs on their plate at dinner time.

Eighteen bows of pasta, to be precise.

I was speechless when I learned this at a recent health promotion talk run by Action Cancer.

Until now I've been routinely serving up two or even three times that amount of pasta to my boys and, to my shame, I've been insisting that they clear their plates, regardless of the tears and tantrums that may ensue.

No mother likes to think she's getting it wrong with her child - and there's something so primal about the business of feeding your 'baby' - no matter how old they are - that it can be difficult to be objective about their food intake. And who hasn't cracked under pressure during what my mum used to call 'the witching hour' before tea, when everyone's hungry and tired and it's tempting to silence them with biscuits?

But equally I am inexplicably satisfied by the sight of my children tucking into hearty bowls of home-made soup. And I don't mind them putting away chocolate brownies at a rate of knots when they're ones I've made myself. Feeding is what mothers do. But are we overdoing it?

Britain has the worst rate for child obesity in Europe, and in a recent survey for the BBC some paediatricians compared overfeeding to abuse. They were talking about children whose health and family life is at serious risk due to their weight, but still, it's serious food for thought.

Of course, if your child happily demolishes four times that amount of pasta no-one is suggesting they should be starved. What matters more than portion size is that the child's diet is healthy and varied. (For more information about what is a healthy diet for children, visit this NHS page. The Eatwell Plate is also a helpful guide to how much we should all be eating.

But if mealtimes are a battleground and getting your child to finish their food is a challenge, it could be worth considering whether you're overfeeding.

A child's hand is a good gauge for estimating a healthy portion and it's worth remembering that children's stomachs are considerably smaller than our own. Some children (my own included) confuse hunger with boredom, too, or associate snacking with watching TV but it's worth trying to contain their main food intake to mealtimes so you can ensure they're getting enough of the right foods.

For me, the proof was in the pudding. At the very next mealtime following my foodie revelation I served up 40g of pasta. Precisely 18 bows, not one more and not one less. Intriguingly, there was none of the wailing and protesting that mealtime is usually met with. My boys scoffed their tea, actually enjoyed their food without being nagged between mouthfuls, and had room for a healthy pudding, following by a treat. It could all be in my mind, but I'd say they slept better and their mood improved, too.

Until they make like Oliver Twist and start demanding more, it's strictly 18 bows of pasta from now on.

Related content on ParentDish:

Poor diets lower children's IQ

What do you think? Have you changed the amount you feed your children?