Open thread: Portions

Earlier on in the project, I mentioned that I was hungry around 3pm some days that I ate school lunch. I wondered if it was due to the quality of the meal, but many readers commented that it was due to the fact that these lunches are meant for children not an adult.

What do you know about portions for children? How do my school lunches fit into your understanding of portions?

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31 thoughts on “Open thread: Portions

  1. I think the lunches are more adult in portion to be honest.

    But, what I remember from being a kid and from the moms I talk now with that have children is that kids are always starving when they get home from school. Really, completely starving. Not sure what that is about, but I know that even now I eat lunch and I am hungry again by 3:00 and ready for a snack no matter how healthy a lunch I ate. I think our bodies are running at peak efficiency if we eat every 2-3 hours, so hunger at 3:00 seems normal. The quality of the school lunches is still a problem, but the hunger, I think that might just be normal.

  2. I agree with April. The portions seem like more than I would feed my children and likely more than I eat in a sitting.

    Because we are not in a classroom setting, we eat breakfast about 8:00 (an hour or so after they wake), lunch about 11:00, snack about 2 or 3, dinner about 5, and another snack about 8. They go to bed at 9pm. My children are aged 3, 6, 9, and 13, so I'm not referring to just a toddler's tiny tummy. We just seem to eat better and less overall if we spread it out a bit (even the 13 year old boy)!

  3. I know that if I eat later in the day with my older child the cafeteria ladies give me more food than if I eat with my 6 yo. And he, a big kid for his age, never gets enough food (he says).

  4. It's an interesting question. Boys aged 14-18 can actually require slightly more calories than men over 18, so theoretically the kids should be getting a slightly larger portion than the adults. (Though kids ages 4-13 require fewer calories than adults.)

    My guess would be that it has more to do with the type of food — specifically, too many refined carbs. All those refined grains and simple sugars are digested very quickly, and cause a blood sugar spike — so the crash, just a couple of hours after eating, makes you want to eat again.

    Having said that, I agree with April — I usually eat smaller meals more often (about 5-6 times a day), so I am usually hungry every couple of hours. Just a small snack, however, will usually satisfy me.

  5. Actually, it has more to do with the fiber/other macronutrient ratio. Meats and sugars are high in calories, without a lot of fiber to slow down the absorption of these macronutrients, our body uses them too quickly, and we are hungry much sooner. A dramatic representation of this fact is when you eat a bowl of ramen noodles. It doesn't matter how much you eat in one setting, you could stuff yourself full, still you are starving hungry in just a couple hours. Though the whole grains in these meals should counteract the effect somewhat, there are still too many (other) macronutrients in the meals (plus the fact that fats and sugars are often increased with the use of fiber rich foods). There should really be an increase in legumes (without sugary sauce) and a decrease in meats to balance the meals better.

  6. I think it is both. I have seen your lunches over the last several months and they look small. But then again, I eat alot. But I do think that the portions are created for the kids.

    I sometimes "disagree" with my baby sitter because I want to feed the kids whole foods, nuts and whole grains and raw veggies, etc. She wants to as well, but they don't eat as quickly or as much of those items as they would say, Goldfish crackers, and she is worried that they will starve. I think it is partially taste why they eat more of the junky stuff, but I also think they eat less of the healthy stuff because it fills them up. Just because they are eating a bigger portion does not always mean that they are better off in the nutrition department.

    Have you ever asked the kids how they feel at 3pm?

  7. One thing that breaks my heart is when I watch adults feed their young children the same portion sizes they would eat themselves. I've seen/overheard many situations where parents load up a kid's plate with more food than their little tummies could possibly be expected to hold, and then tell them to clean their plates.

    Maybe part of the child obesity problem involves some people who don't realize that a child half their size doesn't need (and often doesn't want) an adult-sized meal.

  8. I wonder if it's a couple of things – the seemingly high GI of the food you're eating and that our bodies like to be fed every 2-4 hours when we're awake? There doesn't seem to be a lot of fibre in what they're feeding you for lunch and besides all its other benefits, fibre keeps you feeling full longer too.

    I know I eat appropriately portioned lunches around 11:30 or 12:00 on working days and then sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 I also need a small snack – I usually choose a yogurt and fruit or some veggies and hummus or something similar.

    I remember when I was a kid I was STARVING by the time school was over and on days when there were activities right after school I'd either have an extra snack in my bag to eat before/on my way there or if I was picked up and shuttled somewhere, my mom would have a snack for me in the car – a banana or crackers and cheese or something. We didn't have a cafeteria, so I always had a packed lunch, but my mom made sure it was healthy – all of our bread was whole grain (and boy did I get flack from my peers for the), there was always protein and often yogurt or cheese and always two or three fruits and veggies.

    My two-year old daughter was the same when I picked hr up from her last daycare – I always made sure I had some fruit and some crackers or cereal or something in my bag for her (if I packed it in her lunch, it would be gone when I picked her up). She goes to a different daycare now and they give all the kids a fruit or vegetable snack around 4:00 – most are picked up at 4:45. I usually have something else with me just in case – her daycare is on campus where I work and we have a bit of a drive home and then we make dinner, but lots of the families are faculty or students who live on campus and often only one parent is studying/teaching so they have a quick walk home to dinner that is ready.

  9. I know that high schoolers in NYC get a larger portion (my elementary school students ate at a high school over the summer on Fridays for a swim program).

    Last year at the school where I taught, I know the lunch servers would give the older grades the chicken breasts while the younger grades (and my students) got a drum and a wing, and the amount of meat and ease of eating were remarkably different. We used to get extra lunches pretty easily, because half of my students couldn't go up on their own to get lunch (District 75–severe special needs) and they all got free lunch, anyway. My paras and I distributed the extra lunches amongst the kids and also redistributed the parts of the lunches the kids would eat between them, so that everyone usually had enough to eat that they liked. Luckily, my kids were pretty good eaters and they all loved fruit, so they did okay.

    My students never needed to take advantage of this, but any student who was still hungry after the regular lunch was able to go up and get a peanut butte rand jelly sandwich.

  10. My kids are always hungry at the end of the school day too. I think that the portion sizes are too small, but so high in calories that they couldn't give more. I know that when I send larger lunches from home that are more filling but lighter on calories, they don't seem to be as hungry at 3.

  11. My daughter is always starving at the end of a school day. They eat lunch at 11:30, and I pick her up at 3 p.m. I would expect her to be starving after 3.5 hours, which usually includes recess and either PE or Movement class.

    I wonder, though, whether the short lunch period has anything to do with how hungry kids get? I know that when I pack my daughter's lunch I'm conscious of the fact that she only has about 20 minutes to eat it, and I know there is talking among friends during that time too. If I pack a larger lunch, she doesn't have time to finish it all.

  12. I agree with Renee…the amount of time given for kids to eat concerns me a little. Not so much for older kids that are able to eat faster and realize the time constraints but for smaller kids (such as my kindergarten age daughter) the small amount of time may not be enough to eat and so she picks out her "favorite" part of the lunch and then usually eats the remainder when she gets home. All I can really do is get as healthy of a breakfast into her as possible and hope she eats the snack that is provided later in the day.

  13. I think majority of adults and children get hungry around 3pm if they have lunch around 11:30-12:30pm. I think it could be the portions of the food or the amount of energy is burned after consumption. Snacks are a good way to put in extra servings of fruits and veggies, so I think it's okay to eat up!

  14. The website for the school lunch program reports the minimum calorie count for a k-6 lunch is in the 660 calorie range. I was kind of surprised that it's that high.

  15. At the middle school where I teach, students receive breakfast as well as lunch, due to the low socio-economic status of the population. These two meals add up to over 1500 calories (nutritional information is posted on the district website, so the math is easy). That's a lot of calories, but the food is all "calorie dense" – not a lot of food, just a lot of fat and carbs with no fiber.

  16. Every person is different. Your metabolism, activity level, and the quality of the food you are eating would be more useful indicators of how much you need to eat rather than your age. Some nine-year-old boys needs tons of calories, some need relatively few. My friend's three-year-old has always been a light eater except when she goes through a growth spurt. Then she eats twice as much food as usual, sometimes more. At 29 and 5'6 I eat more calories than my husband who is 28 and 6'2. We are both quite thin, but I exercise more. What, how much and how often we should eat vary from person to person. That's why the old Food Guide Pyramid was so ridiculous. We aren't all the same. We don't have all the same needs.

  17. I am at odds with serving size as schools dish out the same portion to kindergarten classes as they do to 5th grade. How does this possibly work out?

  18. It's probably impossible to come up with a uniform portion size to satisfy all appetites, especially in elementary, where they're feeding everyone from tiny kindergartners to sixth-graders like my daughter, who is almost 12 and as big as (and hungrier than) an adult. The meals at your school would be enough for me, but she'd be starving before the end of the day!

  19. Most "stay healthy/lose weight fast" schemes claim, that smaller portions 5-6 times a day are better for our metabolism than larger portions 2-3 times a day, because that means our bodies are given more time to process smaller amounts of nutrients over a longer time frame, which allows us to utilise more nutrients from our diet.

    Large portions mean you're essentially overeating in relation to your body's ability to process food. You'll feel tired and worn out after meals, because your digestion requires a little extra attention from your body as a whole.

    I'm a bit of a perpetual nanny and stand-in mom type, and I tend to make sure kids eat a hearty, healthy breakfast, which contains a lot of fibre and proteins (for example yoghurt and wholegrain cereal with fruit), and then meals so that there's a small snack before lunch, then a "light" lunch, compared to what most people eat, and then one or two small afternoon snacks before dinner. Dinner and then a small evening snack. It sounds labour intensive, but you can see differences within less than a week in a child's activity levels.

    What Mrs. Q's lunches are in my eyes, is very monotonous in colour. I'm used to having some sort of fruit and veg involved in every meal, and used to love the salad buffet at schools (in Finland) I attended even as a kid.

    I'm suspecting that if the meals were more rich in fibre, the colours of the veggies in the food had some remnants of their original rainbow of colours left in them, and kids were allowed to spend 30-45 minutes on a lunch break (I wouldn't mind seeing a recess merged with lunch, to get kids eating), they'd have time to pay more attention to their own lunches, too.

  20. I, like others, think the lunches are high in calories but not as filling and there isn't a lot of time to eat.

    My kids have an extended day program. I give them a snack before they get on the bus since there is a 40-60 minute ride. Then they get breakfast at school. I pack their lunches and the school provides a snack at some point (the snacks are usually bagels I think).

    Then they get off the bus at 5, just in time for dinner.

  21. In the school I work in the kids choose their own lunch. They are only required to take 2 of the following: entree, vegetable, fruit, milk. A serving of broccoli is 3 stems, an entree is 2 cheese breadsticks with a cup of tomato sauce for dipping, and a fruit serving can be one of those frozen minute maid juice bars. For the K-2 kids I think this is enough food, but the older kids need more than that in my opinion. Some of the older kids are bigger than I am and I can imagine they are starving by the end of the day.

  22. My guess is that the school food has lots of sugar in it. Quick energy. It hits the system fast and hard and the body burns it up quickly.

    Processed foods have lots of HFCS, sugar and salt to make them taste better. The body uses white flour like sugar as well.

    And if it is Fake sugar it doesn't make you feel full at all.

    Also, I know many will not agree with me, but the use of low fat milk and other items just leaves little bodies hungry. They need some fats, even saturated fats for their brains and bodies.
    Plus fats help you to feel full longer so you don't have that hungry feeling in your belly that keeps you from paying attention at the end of the long school day.

  23. I know when I was in school (which wasn't too long ago I guess. I graduated from high school in 2007), school lunches rarely kept me full for long. Our first lunch period was at 11:13am and our last lunch period was at 1:03, so whether or not I was hungry again by 3pm largely depended on which lunch period I had that day.

    Generally, students at my high school brought snacks to school to eat during the last couple classes of the day.

  24. I think that every child is different and over the course of childhood there are a lot of changes. Around 600 calories for lunch seems a lot for most kids though. Thanks for all your input!

  25. Hmm, someone needs to invent a device to scan each child as they enter the line and dispense the precise nutrients needed.

    I did think it was interesting to see that the comments also noted other thoughts beyond the actual contents/size of the meals, such as time available to eat.

    A good example, I think, of the complex nature of the issue. We might work to create the perfect planning pattern, find a way to get the perfect amount of food to each child for their needs, etc, etc, etc, and yet find that there is not time or room for the students to eat, or that students are not participating or eating for any other number of reasons. Overwhelming sometimes…what to solve first?

  26. INteresting and insightful comments…but here's something to throw in the mix. I pack my son a lunch EVERY day. It consists of a ham sandwich on whole wheat bread, a whole piece of fruit, baked chips, a fruit juice drink box and a small treat such as a cookie (usually homemade). He eats almost all of his lunch(the chips usually make it home with him at then end of the day and perhaps 3 inches of crust from the sandwich) and he still comes home starving! The first thing he wants to do is have a snack. I know I can't make him eat more, his stomach can only hold so much, so I don't think its a portion thing during lunch. I think the schools should allow for snack time. Isn't it better to eat every few hours anyway, the whole idea of several smaller meals during the day?

  27. I know at my school teacher's who buy lunch pay more so I would hope they get a bigger portion size.

    For my own kids, I usually try to go with around half of whatever a package says. But that's not consistent.

    I find it interesting that 'Baby Life' thinks there should be snacktime in school. It's driving me crazy that my kindergartener has it because my kids rarely snack at home and I keep forgetting to send.

  28. I think it varies a lot from kid to kid. The kids I babysit can eat me under the table – they're both very active tween boys, though. For the teachers – I honestly think school itself is part of it. I got my degree in elementary education in college a couple years ago. When I did my student teaching, I noticed the first couple days that the other teachers all always had snacks at recess, just like the kids. At first I thought it was a little silly (I'm a grown-up, I can go three hours without a snack, right?) – but by the end of the first week, I was realizing that I was STARVING by 10am. Teaching burns calories. I've never been a big breakfast person, and I started grabbing two granola bars on my way out the door every morning instead of one. I was eating a morning snack when the kids did – around 10:30/11 – and lunch at 12:30. Then I'd get home at 3 and need another snack to hold me over til dinner. And this was while packing all my own food every day. And even so, I was still usually seriously hungry when each opportunity to eat came around. Never in my adult life have I been as consistently hungry as I was that semester – and I probably ate healthier that semester than any time in my adult life, too. Teaching takes a lot of energy!

  29. Keep in mind that it's generally considered healthiest to eat smaller meals, five or six times a day. I generally eat three main meals and two snacks.

    If you find yourself getting hungry about three hours after eating, that's actually pretty normal, and it's good to have a healthy snack around. Fruit and nuts, something transportable and easy to eat.

    You may notice that eating more frequently will keep you alert and awake in the afternoon. Before I started eating this way, I'd rush for an afternoon coffee in the office. Then, I traded the coffee for a snack and realized that my body just needed some fuel.

  30. I don't think there's anything wrong with having an afternoon snack, even as an adult. I remember when I was a kid, I was always hungry when I came home, and the after-school snack was a part of my regular routine (that I actually have warm fuzzy memories about). When my mom was still staying at home, she'd have something prepared for my little sister and I when we got home in this sectioned tray we used just for that purpose. The typical afternoon snack would be cheese and crackers, some kind of fruit or vegetable like apple slices or carrot sticks, and sometimes a sweet treat like a cookie. Pretty healthy I'd say. My sister and I would even sit down together at our play table and eat it all civilized! Then when she started working, as the Big Sister, I then made the snack for me and my sister.

    Snack Time would be between whenever we got home and 4 pm. We weren't allowed to eat anything after 4 because it would spoil our dinner.

    Even as an adult, I think having an afternoon snack is a good idea. There's lots of healthy things you can have. If I have a job where I have a regular work schedule with breaks, I still usually get a healthy snack during my afternoon break so I won't be starving when I get home and tempted to get take out for dinner or something.

  31. The lunches look like at least 500 calories, which should be plenty for an adult meal unless you're pretty active. The hunger comes from eating a lot of high-glycemic items, and the resulting blood sugar rush wearing off a few hours later. Fat and protein slow down the absorption of the sugars and moderate the sugar rush and crash, but school lunches are very carb heavy and pride themselves on being low fat. And I'm not sure if there's any significant protein in most of the "meat" products 😛

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