Dishware size is thought to influence eating behaviors, but effects on children’s self-served portion sizes and intakes have not been studied. We aimed to evaluate whether larger dishware increased children’s self-served portion sizes and intake during meals.
A within-subjects experimental design was used to test the effects of dishware size (ie, plates and bowls) on children's self-served portion sizes and intakes in a naturalistic setting. Subjects were predominantly African American elementary school–aged children (n = 42) observed on repeated occasions during school lunch. Children served themselves an entree and side dishes using either child- or adult-size dishware, which represented a 100% increase in the surface area of plates and volume of bowls across conditions. Condition order was randomly assigned and counterbalanced across 2 first-grade classrooms. Entrées of amorphous and unit form were evaluated on separate days. Fruit and vegetable side dishes were evaluated at each meal. Fixed portions of milk and bread were provided at each meal.
Children served more energy (mean = 90.1 kcal, SE = 29.4 kcal) when using adult-size dishware. Adult-size dishware promoted energy intake indirectly, where every additional calorie served resulted in a 0.43-kcal increase in total energy intakes at lunch (t = 7.72, P = .001).
Children served themselves more with larger plates and bowls and consumed nearly 50% of the calories that they served. This provides new evidence that children’s self-served portion sizes are influenced by size-related facets of their eating environments, which, in turn, may influence children’s energy intake.