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Childcare Programs Do Not Let Kids Serve Themselves

Update Date: Jan 22, 2014 11:39 AM EST

For young children, their parents often decide their diets for them. Even though parents might know more about nutrition and food, a new study is reporting that letting children serve themselves could be beneficial. However, the researchers found that not enough parents or guardians from childcare centers are allowing these self-serving practices.

The nutritionists from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently recommend parents to allow their children over the age of two to serve themselves at home. The idea behind this recommendation is that children who get to pick their own foods will most likely pick the right portions. The USDA suggested that children who serve themselves at home are less likely to overeat and more likely to try new things.

In the recent study headed by Brent McBride, director of the Child Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois, the researchers discovered that despite these guidelines, parents and guardians continue to serve food for young children.

"If you serve pre-plated meals to children, the adults are deciding how much to eat," McBride said according to NPR.

McBride's study found that many independent and government-backed childcare centers have not adopted the family-style meals. The researchers explained that these centers most likely avoided serving meals family-style because it is messier and more time-consuming. On top of that, having young children serve themselves could lead to food waste.

"Often adults don't trust children can do it," commented Laurel Branen, a dietician and a professor emeritus of food and nutrition at the University of Idaho. "But they just need practice. [Adults] need to explain what a serving is. It means 'Take a spoonful and you can always have more.'"

The researchers reported that the centers tied to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Head Start program were the only ones to use the family-style serving method. The program mandates teachers to follow the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics guidelines. The guidelines advise childcare providers to provide meals via family-style so that children who select what they want.

With the childhood obesity epidemic still at large, it is important that parents and caretakers teach children about good nutrition and proportions. McBride's study, "Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics benchmarks for nutrition in child care 2011: are child-care providers across contexts meeting recommendations?" can be accessed here.

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