Parents urged to give children child-sized portions, not adult ones

Bigger portions of healthy food also contributing to obesity problems.

Monday 29 August, 2016. As part of its campaign to take on childhood obesity, safefood has identified portion size as a key issue in preventing children becoming overweight and is urging parents to give children child-sized portions. The message is clear that how much children eat as well as what they eat is very important; recent studies¹ have found that children aged over two ate up to 40% more food when bigger portion sizes were made available to them. 

Commenting Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said: “It’s well established that for adults, we eat more food and consume more calories when we’re given bigger portions and we now recognise that this goes for children as well. There has also been a significant increase in food portion sizes over the past 20 years, this all contributes to more of our children nowadays carrying excess weight. What’s also interesting is that young children up to the age of two have good appetite control and only eat what they need, but older children lose this ability to know when they’re full.”

Research² has shown that food portion sizes have significantly increased over the past 20 years, particularly among baked foods like scones, croissants and danishes as well as takeaway foods; some takeaway food portion sizes are now 180% bigger compared to the late 1990s.

Dr Sinead Murphy, Consultant Paediatrician and Clinical Lead for the W82GO Healthy Lifestyles programme at Temple Street Children’s Hospital, continued: “Surprisingly we are finding on our programmes that more than half the children who are presenting as seriously overweight are in fact eating what we would consider ‘healthy food’ but just far too much of it. We also know that the parents may feel they are doing the right thing for their children by filling them up with ‘good food’ when in fact they’re creating problems for them now and in later life. "It’s important to encourage children to recognise when they are full and to allow them not to eat any more when they feel full - most parents will go with this with sweet treats but not when it comes to other foods. This message from the campaign is critical and parents need to be aware that children only need child-sized portions of all foods and any more is doing them harm in the long-term."

Children don’t need the same amount of food as adults do”,

added Dr Foley-Nolan. “For example, a five year old needs about half the food an adult does. Parents can manage portions by being aware and using some techniques e.g. using smaller child-sized plates at mealtimes and giving a smaller portion to begin with – if children are still hungry, then give a little bit more.”

“We know that any change to habits can be a challenge and we all want to nourish and nurture our children but giving them the right amount of all foods is key to their health. We have lots of practical advice and tools on appropriate portion sizes for meals and for snacks on our website and how to make these healthier changes as a family”, added Dr Foley-Nolan.

a scared girl eating big meatballs

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For more information or to request an interview please contact

Wilson Hartnell:

Emma Walsh, Tel: 087 317 0897 or E:

Amy Pilgrim, Tel: 087 261 3300 or E:

Or safefood:

Julie Carroll, Tel: 01 448 0600 or 086 150 3047 or E:


¹”External influences on children’s self-served portions at meals” Fisher et al (2013)

²”Consumer Understanding of food portion sizes” safefood; QUBl UCD (2015)

Editor’s notes

The three year, all island campaign to take on childhood obesity by safefood in partnership with the HSE and Healthy Ireland Framework in the Republic of Ireland and the ‘Fitter Futures for All’ Implementation Plan in Northern Ireland, urges parents to make practical changes to everyday lifestyle habits which would make a big difference to their children’s future health.

safefood’s tips for parents on reducing portion sizes for kids

  • Kids need child-sized portions, not adult ones. So give them small portions of food on their plates to start with. If they want more, then give it to them.
  • If they say they’re hungry after a meal, offer them something nutritious like fruit.
  • Try to avoid have fatty and sugary snack foods freely available between and after meals.
  • Don’t pressure children to eat all the food on their plate and allow them to stop when they say ‘I’ve had enough’.
  • For smaller kids, use plates and cutlery that match their size, not yours.
  • Remember the proportions of food you offer during the day; they should be roughly one-third fruit and veg; one-third starchy foods like bread and potatoes; one-third dairy like milk, cheese and yogurt and one-third protein like meat and fish.
  • Keep treats at a realistic level – a little and not every day.