McConahy and colleagues (2002) found that the food portion sizes consumed by children 1 to 2 years of age have been consistent over the past 20 years. However, as children develop, they become increasingly responsive to environmental cues such as portion size; by the age of 5 years, larger portions can lead to increased food intake (Rolls et al., 2000). This issue is discussed further below.
As children develop, they play an expanding role in determining the foods that are available to them. They make their own choices at school and in other out-of-home settings, and they increasingly influence family food purchases. Furthermore, as they begin to be influenced by their peers and the broader culture, they may make certain food choices based on popular appeal. It is also important to note, however, that parents are important role models and their dietary intake influences that of their children (see section below on role models).
Parents can promote wise food selections and a wholesome overall diet by making nutritious options available to children. Research has shown that children’s consumption of fruit, 100 percent fruit juice, and vegetables are positively influenced by the availability and accessibility of these foods in the home (Nicklas et al., 2001; Cullen et al., 2003). Similarly, parents can limit the types and quantity of energy-dense high-calorie foods (e.g., cookies, chips) that are available in the home, particularly those that have low nutrient content. Improved consumer nutrition information in restaurants and on food labels (see Chapter 5) will provide parents and young people with enhanced information on which to base their dietary decisions.
Parents are responsive to children’s attempts to influence food purchases (Galst and White, 1976). Interviews with 500 children and youth aged 8 to 17 years found that 78 percent of respondents noted that they influence family food purchases (Roper ASW, 2003). For their part, 84 percent of the parents stated that their children do indeed influence such purchases.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food Guide Pyramid provide information on the types of foods that make up a balanced and nutritious diet (USDA and DHHS, 2000; USDA, 2004). Although it is not the purpose of this report to duplicate that information, the committee wishes to emphasize the responsibilities of children (particularly older children), youth, and parents in choosing and providing a balanced diet. Parents should promote healthful food choices by school-age children and