Portion Distortion

 Which one of these portion sizes do you normally eat?


The three plates on the right are the Medium, Large and Super-sized you are served at McDonald’s. The smallest portion (½ cup) is the one recommended by the USDA.

What is portion distortion?

Portions we are served and we are used to eating are often larger than the recommendations, and they have increased over the last 20 years. We have get used to big sizes and this has changed our idea of a “normal” serving (1). But overeating increases the risk for developing weight problem and diseases associated with being overweight.

Research has shown that children eat more when offered larger portion sizes, even if they are not hungry anymore and do not need more energy intake (2 – 3). This is why it is important to know what their needs the recommended amounts are in order to adapt their meal portion accordingly.

What is the difference between portion and serving sizes?

A serving size is a guide to help you see how many calories and nutrients you consume and it makes it easier to compare products. It is expressed in household measures (cups, ounces, pieces, etc.). On products’ Nutrition Facts Labels, you can find the serving size and the number of servings in the container. Food packaging often contains more than one serving size.

A portion size is the amount of food you choose to eat at one time. It can be larger or smaller than the recommended serving size. The portion size we are willing to eat depends on our age, gender, appetite and activity level (1 – 4).

What are the recommended serving sizes?

Children and adults have different nutrition needs: children can eat the same foods as the rest of the family, but in different amounts.

These are the lunch and supper meal patterns for children 3-5 years old and adults (5). They are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  Ages 3-5 Adults
Milk ¾ cup 1 cup (not required)
Meat and meat alternate 1 ½ ounces 2 ounces
Vegetables ¼ cup ½ cup
Fruits ¼ cup ½ cup
Grains ½ slice of bread

or ¼ cup of cooked rice or pasta

*At least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains

1 slice of bread

Or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta

*At least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains

 How can I easily measure portion sizes?

Measuring serving sizes is not always easy. Here is a tip to make it easier: you can use your hand as measuring tool (6):

portion sizes

  • A handful of shredded cheese is about one ounce
  • A small handful of nuts is about 1 ounce
  • Your thumb is about the same size as 1 ounce of cheese
  • Your fist is about the same size as a cup or one once of cereal and grains
  • Your palm is about the same size as 3 ounces of meat, fish or poultry


Get your kids involved in meal preparation and in sizing portions!


By Maëlis Horellou

Intern – Majoring in nutrition and human health in France



Healthy Bodies Project Family Events

On Monday, July 11th, we attended two different family events for The Healthy Bodies Project at the same time to present an educational nutrition display, provide a fun activity, and offer a food tasting! Although we were surprised by the low attendance at one of the events, we were still able to engage the students, their siblings and their parents in the nutritional information that we provided and the fruit pizza food tasting.20160711_120407

The recipe that we used to make the fruit pizzas is approved by the USDA and is both fun and easy to make. Fruit pizzas take very little time to prepare and the ingredients are relatively inexpensive and easily accessible.

Our two educational displays provided information about the sugar content of commonly consumed beverages and healthy substitutions for common foods. As for the activities, children were asked to either spin a spinning wheel that had fun exercises written on each section or pull a Popsicle stick out of a colorful bucket with the same fun exercises written on them as on the spinning wheel. If the children completed these exercises, they could pick a small prize!

Most of the children were interested in trying a fruit pizza and many of them confirmed that they enjoyed the pizzas and would try them again. Our hope is that by showing the children and their families how simple and quick it is to prepare a healthy fruit pizza, they will make it at home. The fruit pizzas consisted of half of a whole wheat English muffin, low-fat whipped strawberry cream cheese, sliced strawberries, sliced green grapes, and canned mandarin oranges.

After talking with many of the parents at the events, I found it very inspiring to hear that The Healthy Bodies Project has positively impacted the lives of the children that participate in the program. Hearing even one parent explain how they have made healthy changes to their family’s diet because of our program is an indescribable feeling. I am positive that we will continue to leave a lasting impression on the families that we work with!

By: Mallory Tomko, Senior

Biobehavioral Health Major

     Human Development and Family Studies Minor



child with banana

Make it FUN!


How can you get kids excited about healthy eating? How can you encourage them to eat healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables? The answer is: MAKE IT FUN!

The first sensory contact we have with our meals is through the eyes. “It looks good!” or “It looks disgusting!” We make a first judgment about the food on our plate even before we take the first bite. This is especially the case for children. The visual appeal of their cropped-fruits-salad2.jpgmeal has a very important impact on their willingness to try new foods or to eat more nutritious foods. Indeed, some studies have shown that visually appealing meals increase the acceptance and consumption of fruits and vegetables in children (1-2). So let’s prepare beautiful, colorful and fun meals!


Another way to get children excited about healthy food is to have them participate in meal preparation.Father son preparing foodIndeed, children’s involvement in meal preparation impacts their food preferences and has a positive effect on their vegetable intake (3-4). They might be more willing to eat the meal if they have helped to prepare it. And this is a perfect occasion for them to develop skills, learn about food and share pleasant family time. Many children enjoy being part of the process, from beginning to end, and are extremely proud of their achievements!

Thus, visually appealing meals and children’s involvement in meal preparation are two key points to make kids more excited about healthy eating. Here is a fun idea that mixes these two aspects:


Ask your children to arrange raw fruits and/or vegetables into a fun shape or design. Make different healthy ingredients available to them. This is the perfect opportunity for you to introduce new foods and to increase the diversity in your children’s plates. Let them mix the ingredients, shapes, colors, sizes, etc. and encourage them to tell a story on their plate. Then, they can name their creation!

The internet is a great place to find a lot of fun recipe ideas to prepare with your children.

So… What story are you going to tell in your plates today?

For additional resources visit the following USDA links:

Nibbles Newsletter

Kid-Friendly Fruits & Veggies


By Maëlis Horellou


Majoring in Human Health and Nutrition in France



(1) Jansen E (2010). How to promote fruit consumption in children. Visual appeal versus restriction. Appetite; 54(3):599-602
(2) Wadhera D (2014). A review of visual cues associated with food on food acceptance and consumption. Eat Behav ; 15(1):132-43.
(3) Chu YL (2013). Involvement in home meal preparation is associated with food preference and self-efficacy among Canadian children. Public Health Nutr ; 16(1):108-12
(4) Van der Horst K (2014). Involving children in meal preparation. Effects on food intake. Appetite; 79:18-24.
Happy little cook with ladle and pan, isolated on white

Life Skills in the Kitchen!

Little boy with ladle and pot and chef hat.jpg

Cooking with your child is an excellent way to spend quality time together. It is fun, educational, and you both get to enjoy a delicious meal at the end!

While it is obvious that a child can learn more about food from partaking in its preparation, there are other valuable skills he or she can gain from helping you in the kitchen:

  • Fine motor skills: This refers to the small muscles we use in our hands to control tools. The development of these skills is essential to a productive and independent life. As children move into preschool age, they begin to develop mastery over theseLoving Father Helping His Son Cut Vegetables fine movements. Helping in the kitchen with different cutlery and utensils would be an excellent way to further this development1.
  • Math: Measuring is typically an integral part of cooking. Allowing your child to attempt the measurements on his or her own would allow them a greater understanding of fractions and the relative amount each measurement represents (i.e. tablespoon versus cup versus teaspoon).


  • How to follow directions: Your child will see the positive results that come from following a recipe correctly (delicious food!). This could translate to them following instructions more closely in other areas of their life.Boy Kid Baking Cake. Child Pouring Mik Into A Bowl. Kitchen.
  • How to work with others: By dividing the work to prepare the food, your child is practicing working in a group setting- a valuable skill to carry through life.


  • Confidence: By imparting responsibility onto your child, you are showing that you trust them with an important task. When they are successful in helping to produce a meal that everyone can enjoy, their confidence will “According to Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, ‘children cannot gain genuine confidence without experiencing their own competence’”2.


  • How to Shop Smart: Include your child in every aspect of food preparation, including shopping! It is an excellent way to introduce them to budgeting and shopping smart. They can also learn more about where to find certain ingredients in a grocery store by assisting you in finding them.


  • “Self-help” skills: Your child can also help with the clean-up process. This will not only help you out with dish duty, but also teach them to be self-sufficient.


These are just a few examples of the positive outcomes of including your child in food preparation. So the next time you are making a meal, set aside a task for your little one, and enjoy all of these positive results!

Megan Fiorillo, Penn State Class of 2017, BS Biobehavioral Health


  1. Supporting Children’s Development
  2. Building Confidence



From a French Perspective: Different ways of eating

When should we eat? Which way is better to eat?

Eating is essential for the body, but the rhythm of the meal can change according to people, metabolism, age, sex and even varies by the country or the region. Each country in the world has unique eating habits: 3 times per day, with people, a sandwich in the street… What are the differences between France and the USA?

 France is a country where food is really important. Many people think French people are cooking all the time, with big dinners and a lot of cheese, wine, bread and cream. Sometimes, this kind of meal can be found in France, but that’s usually for big occasions, like a wedding, Christmas, or a birthday.

French people are like those in any other country: between work, school and other activities, finding the time to cook is hard and people eat quickly, but not always healthy.

Even if France evolves, French will keep some habits like eating 3 times per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). They eat most of the time together at a table. There is also a kind of meal at 4pm called “le goûter”. It’s mostly sugary and kids love it. It seems to be common for people in America to eat lunch while working or on the go. In France, you have to take a break and eat with colleagues, friends, or family.


Many nutritionists say that eating together is good for your health. By eating together, it’s possible to take time to eat, enjoy the food, have a conversation with someone, and even try new foods. Eating together has a lot of advantages, especially for children. They take time to enjoy the food, prepare the dinner with members of the family, and discover new foods and ways to cook. Eating is an essential activity, but it’s also a social experience and it’s good for the family to cook and eat together!

Some social rules at the table are different between France and the USA. For example, in France you have to use a fork and a knife and you aren’t allowed to put your elbow on the table. It’s also very rude if you don’t place both of your hands on the table. This is not necessarily the case in the USA.

If you go to France, be careful if you have to cut cheese: each cheese has its unique way to  be cut!


Sometimes trying to find ideas to cook with few ingredients, new foods, with a special diet or without time is really complicated.  If you need advice, you can go to a website like: http://www.whatscooking.fns.usda.gov/

If you are feeling adventurous and want to test your French, you can find some French recipes on this website:


Bon appétit!

Written by Clara Lerond

From a French Perspective: Dietary guidelines in France and the USA

Over the next few months we will present a series of posts titled “From a French Perspective”. This series will feature posts from our new intern, Clara Lerond, a Food and Health student from Institut LaSalle Beauvais. During this series she’ll discuss different food and health issues, such as dietary guidelines and eating habits- from a French perspective. She’ll even share some authentic French recipes! Check out her first post below:

Eating is a vital activity for the body, but eating healthy can be really difficult. New scientific discoveries show that nutritious food is crucial to be in good health and we now know that our diet influences diabetes, obesity, and cardio-vascular diseases.

It’s possible to find a lot of information to know how you can eat healthy and limit the risk of disease. This information can be created for the world, but each country has created its own recommendations. What are the differences between the guidelines in France and in the USA?



There are many similarities between these two countries. For instance, both recommend increasing physical activity and drinking water instead of sugary beverages.

The differences can be found in the proportion of each group of food. France recommends eating more lipids than the USA, but the contrary for proteins. When it comes to carbohydrate consumption the two countries relatively agree.

This difference can be explained with another vision of food and health risks. When you go to a French supermarket you can find a bakery, a stand with cheese, and a fresh fish section. In the USA you can also find these products, but they are already packaged and ready for purchase.

The USA is a leader and is ahead of many countries regarding research about food and health. They are also in advance for special food for pathologies like gluten free. These products have just arrived in France and it’s not easy to find them.

The French government established a health and nutrition national plan (PNNS) and the guidelines are based on a pyramid construction. At the top you can find products with a lot of sugar, which aren’t recommended to be eaten frequently, but at the bottom you can find the grain products, which are recommended to be eaten frequently. The PNNS is looking to decrease the consumption of simple carbohydrates in exchange for complex carbohydrates, like with bread or cereals. You can also find TV commercials with funny characters to explain to kids and adults that they need to reduce fat and salt consumption, eat fruits and vegetables and less sugar. Check out this link as an example:


Some French guidelines have been created and are now being modified because people are having trouble with following them. For example, PNNS recommended eating 5 fruits and vegetables per day. This message wasn’t clear enough. People didn’t know what kind of portion they needed and it was considered to be a message for the rich because fruits and vegetables are expensive.

The French pyramid has a lot of similarities with what the USA recommended with their previous food guide pyramid.

The American guidelines continue to evolve in order to better adapt to the needs of the population and to have a better impact on people.

In 2011, the government introduced MyPlate to show what kinds of portion people need each meal.

Harvard University has also done some research about American dietary guidelines. They suggest using The Healthy Pyramid and the Healthy Eating Plate. Both offer more precision about what kind of foods you should eat, along with many other recommendations.


Written by Clara Lerond 

Hidden sugars, part 2

Remember the last post, Hidden sugars, part 1, where we talked about how some of our favorite drinks, like milk, may have more sugar in them than what we naturally think. This time we’re going to talk about two other drinks: sports drinks and juice!

Now for those performance-enhancing sports drinks- One orange Gatorade has 22 grams of sugar. That’s 5 teaspoons! Leading researchers say it’s better for athletes (and the rest of us!) just to stick to water.

And here’s the big sugar shocker, fruit juice. Even with no sugar added, 100% “all-natural” fruit juice can have as much sugar as soda! For example, one 15.2 oz. bottle of apple juice that you might grab at a convenience store has 49 grams of sugar (11 tsp.), and a 16 oz. bottle of cola has 52 grams of sugar (12 tsp.)! When sugars are added to juice, it can be even worse. When you see words like “beverage” or “punch” or “-ade” added on to the name of your beverage, you can be fairly confident that there is sugar added, like the popular Cranberry Grape Juice Beverage, piling on 72 grams of sugar (17 tsp.) into one 15.2 oz. bottle! How can juice have all of this sugar?! Well, we know that fruit has natural sugar. When we make juice from fruit, we squeeze out all of the water and sugar and vitamins and leave all of the bulk of the fruit (and all of that healthy fiber!) behind, which doesn’t leave very much! In one of those 15.2 oz. apple juices, for example, there might be 5 apples squeezed in, which can account for the crazy amount of sugar. You probably wouldn’t sit down and eat 5 apples, but when you’re drinking juice, that’s essentially what you are doing! So if your kid loves juice, don’t panic. We have some tips to help! First, treat juice as a treat. Try giving your child milk or water at meal times, and if they want a glass of juice, maybe you could give it as dessert! If they’d like a glass of juice with their meal, you can cut down the sugar content by cutting the juice in half with water! Fill up your child’s glass halfway with water, and then fill the rest with juice. We’ve had so many mothers tell us how surprised they were at how good the juice still tasted!

iStock_000017201373_Large (1)

 Written by Emily Pia