The effects of snack foods of different energy density on self-served portions and consumption in preschool children

Hanim E. Diktas, Liane Stevens Roe, Kathleen L. Keller, Barbara Jean Rolls

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It is recommended that preschoolers serve themselves their own food portions; however, it is unclear what factors influence the amount they select for consumption, and particularly how their selected portions are influenced by food properties such as energy density, volume, and weight. We offered preschool children snacks differing in energy density (ED) and investigated the effects on the amounts they served and then consumed. In a crossover design, 52 children aged 4–6 y (46% girls; 21% overweight) ate an afternoon snack on 2 days in their childcare classrooms. Before each snack time, children served the amount they would like to eat of 4 snacks presented in equal volumes but differing in ED (higher-ED: pretzels, cookies; lower-ED: strawberries, carrots). Across the 2 sessions, children were given their self-served amount of either pretzels (3.9 kcal/g) or strawberries (0.3 kcal/g) and intake was measured. Later, children tasted all 4 snacks and rated liking. Results showed that the portions children served themselves were influenced by their liking ratings (p = 0.0006), but after accounting for liking, the volumes they served were similar for all 4 foods (p = 0.27). At snack time, children ate a greater proportion of self-served strawberries (92 ± 4%) than pretzels (73 ± 4%; p = 0.0003), but because of the ED difference they consumed 55 ± 4 kcal more from pretzels than strawberries (p < 0.0001). The difference in snack intake by volume was not attributable to liking ratings (p = 0.87). That children served a consistent volume of similarly-liked snacks suggests that their portions were affected more by visual cues than by weight or energy content. Despite eating a greater volume of lower-ED strawberries, children consumed more energy from the higher-ED pretzels, highlighting the contribution of energy density to children's energy intake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106527
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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