Two studies from a team of American and Dutch researchers have found that larger bowl sizes bias children toward requesting larger portion sizes and eating more food, according to a report published earlier this week in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Previous research has shown that bigger dishes cause adults to eat bigger portions and the new report found the same phenomenon for children – influencing them to eat 52 percent more in one of the new studies.
To examine the effect of bowl size on children’s eating tendencies, researchers served 69 preschoolers a sweetened cereal in either 8-ounce bowls or 16-ounce bowls. Study researchers poured the cereal and milk in small increments, each time asking “Is that enough or do you want more?” until the children responded that they were happy with the amount in front of them. The young participants did not eat their particular portion of cereal.
The study researchers found that bigger bowls correlated to children requesting 87 percent more cereal—despite their age, gender, and body mass index (BMI).
To see how much bowl size affects what children will actually eat – a separate study was conducted with 18 children between the ages of 6 and 10 at summer camp. The second study started the same way as the first – with adults serving the children cereal and milk in increasing increments until the participants indicated they had enough. Next, however, the researchers used secret scales built into the tables to determine each cereal portion before and after the children ate – indicating exactly how much had been consumed.
This time, the children asked for 69 percent more cereal and milk when using the bigger bowls. The bigger bowls also correlated to 52 percent increase in what the children ate. Children with the larger bowls also wasted about 14 percent more food than those with small bowls. The researchers also found that 78 percent of the young participants said they had eaten from the same size bowl as their parents at home, potentially causing them to over-portion and overeat.
“Bigger bowls cause kids to request nearly twice as much food, leading to increased intake as well as higher food waste,” said study author Koert Van Ittersum, from the University of Groning. “Based on these findings, using smaller dishware for children may be a simple solution for caregivers who are concerned about their kids’ caloric intake.”
“The quickest way parents can help kids eat less might be to grab them a smaller bowl,” said lead author Brian Wansink, professor of behavioral economics at Cornell University. “Make it 12 ounces rather than the 20 ounces we use.”
According to the USDA, the recommended serving size for cereal is 8 ounces, or a portion about the size of a fist or tennis ball.
“The Dietary Guidelines encourage you to enjoy your food, but eat less and to avoid oversized portions,” said a statement on the USDA’s Choose My Plate website.
“The amount you eat or drink plays an important role in your energy balance strategy,” the statement added. “Most people eat and drink more when served larger portions. Choosing smaller portions can help you lose weight and keep it off.”