The bigger the plate, the more food kids will pile on it. That, in a nutshell, is what a new study says. More food can also mean more calories, fat and sodium.

Just like adults, when given a larger plate, children tend to add more food to fill the space. Give them a smaller plate and they’ll fill the space too, but it won’t have as much food, particularly if kids get to choose which foods they want t eat.

"We found that children served themselves about 90 more calories when they used the large plate at lunch [compared to a small plate]," said Katherine DiSantis, assistant professor of community and global public health at Arcadia University in Glenside, Penn.

However, the scientists noted that many of the children didn’t eat all the food on the larger plate.

The researchers invited the 41 first graders from two different classrooms at a private elementary school to eat lunch, using a small child's plate first and then an adult-sized one. The children had their choice of an entree and side dishes (pasta with meat sauce, chicken nuggets, mixed vegetables and applesauce). They all got fixed portions of milk and bread with each meal.

The researchers weighed the portions before and after the children ate and calculated their caloric intake.

Other research has found that children eat more food when they are served larger portions. But it was not known, DiSantis said, whether the use of larger, adult-sized plates would make kids take and eat more food if they served themselves.

The two factors -plate size and personal food choice – seemed to work well together.  The plate size itself, didn’t promote overeating. Also, a child’s BMI didn’t seem to predict who would put more food on their plate.

The study results showed, DiSantis said, "that children look to their environment for some direction when put in the position of making decisions about how much food to serve themselves."

Using smaller plates may help children learn how to make better portion choices and learning portion control early can benefit them in the long run.

Childhood obesity is a problem in this country and many parents are looking for ways to help their children either lose weight or make healthier food choices, so trying the smaller plate approach couldn’t hurt.

Most experts would probably agree that what is on the plate is far more important than the size of the plate. For the most part, kids will eat what their parents eat.  If you’re making healthy food choices, your kids will accept and enjoy what’s on their plate.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Source: Kathleen Doheny, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20130408/kids-given-big-plates-help-themselves-to-more-food