When do children learn how to select a portion size?

Jennifer S Cox, Elanor C Hinton*, Sarah Sauchelli, Julian P Hamilton-Shield, Natalia S Lawrence, Jeffrey M Brunstrom

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


The reduction of portion sizes supports weight-loss. This study looks at whether children have a conceptual understanding of portion size, by studying their ability to manually serve a portion size that corresponds to what they eat. In a clinical setting, discussion around portion size is subjective thus a computerised portion size tool is also trialled, with the portion sizes chosen on the screen being compared to amounts served manually. Children (n=76) age 5-6, 7-8 and 10-11 were asked to rate their hunger (VAS scale), liking (VAS scale) and ‘ideal portion size for lunch’ of eight interactive meal images using a computerised portion size tool. Children then manually self-served and consumed a portion of pasta. Plates were weighed to allow for the calculation of calories served and eaten. A positive correlation was found between manually served food portions and the amount eaten (r =.53, 95%CI [.34, .82, P<.001), indicating that many children were able to anticipate their likely food intake prior to meal onset. A regression model demonstrates that age contributes to 9.4% of the variance in portion size accuracy (t(68)= -2.3, p=.02). There was no relationship between portion size and either hunger or liking. The portion sizes chosen on the computer at lunchtime correlated to the amount manually served overall (r=.34, 95%CI [.07, .55], p<.01), but not in 5-6-year-old children. Manual portion-size selection can be observed in five-year olds and from age seven, children’s ‘virtual’ responses correlate with their manual portion selections. The application of the computerised portion-size tool requires further development but offers considerable potential.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105247
Number of pages7
Early online date2 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Apr 2021


  • Portion Size
  • Eating behaviour
  • Plate clearing
  • Pre-meal planning
  • Children

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