Children, Wasting Food and Portion Control

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Stop Throwing Away Food!

I have discovered the secret of saving money feeding babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Well, I can’t take the credit for it. My mom taught it to me many years ago but I didn’t put it into practice until the first financial crisis we had when my husband was laid off.

What I have been practicing now for many years has now become one of the new buzz phrases — “portion control”. Usually when we think of portion control it is in connection with dieters and not young children or saving money.

Most American parents serve themselves and their children huge portions of food. Their families eat only part of it, and then they discard the rest. Next time you scrape those half eaten plates of food into the trash, think about this: 30% to 50% of the food and drinks we buy, whether we eat at home or out, get thrown away. That means if you are paying $500 per month on groceries, you are throwing $250 in the trash each month. If you don’t believe it’s true, observe your own family this week. How many half full bowls of soggy cereal do you throw away? How many pieces of toast get tossed only half eaten? What about half empty glasses of juice, milk or pop? With young children this is usually worse, but adults often do it too.

It is easy to forget that children under the age of four have only about a quarter of an adult’s body weight. Often, we feed them adult portions and when we do give them smaller portions, each portion is usually only reduced to about half an adult portion. Do you use that large serving spoon and dump a full spoon of food on your child’s plate? Say you give yourself two spoons of green beans and your child one– That means that you have given yourself about 24 green beans and your child 12 when in reality, that child needs only about six.

Many parents wonder why small children resist eating everything on their plates. What if you were given double portions at every meal? When parents press kids to keep eating when they are full, they inadvertently encourage obesity. It is no wonder that we then end up throwing away half of the food left on their plates. When deciding how much food to give your kids, start small and work your way up. Remember, if they eat what is on their plates you can always give them more. If they consistently ask for seconds, then increase their portions.

Use the same method for drinks. Even a small sippy cup should only be filled half full. This not only reduces the amount that you throw away, but also reduces the losses from spills. I once heard a mom say she always bought two gallons of milk instead of just one. One gallon was for the kids to drink and the other was for them to spill.

Another great way to save a lot of money is to give children more water. In addition to serving children overly large portions, failing to give them enough water leads to obesity. At this point, many parents point out that young children need lots of milk and juice. That is true to a degree, but consider this: The USDA recommends 12 oz of milk per day for children under 4. That is equal to two sippy cups. Before you fill those two sippy cups, remember that kids get milk from other sources too, including milk with their cereal and cheese on their sandwiches. Ask any doctor and he will tell you most people are not getting enough water.

It is easy to think that if something is good for us then even more is better. That isn’t always true. Fertilizer helps our lawns grow, but too much fertilizer can kill the same grass we are feeding. The same rule applies to feeding our children. We think the more juice and milk they get the better, but once kids have had as much as they need nutritionally, the rest just adds calories. Just as with adults, feeding kids too much leads to all kinds of health problems including obesity and diabetes. It also encourages them to develop bad eating habits that get more severe as they get older.

If you are ready to cut the waste from your food budget, here are a few more tips to save money and make your life easier:

  1. Cut the crust off your child’s sandwich before you give it to him. I have tried for years to get my children and grandchildren to eat the crust and have discovered that it is like trying to climb Mount Everest. It can be done, but I’m not sure if it is worth all the work and headache. So give in and cut off the crust. Throw it in a bag and use it for bread crumbs or croutons. Then the kids will eat their entire sandwiches instead of just that hole in the middle and you won’t waste the sandwich filling that would have been tossed with the crust.
  2. Cut kids’ sandwiches into small squares or triangles. Their hands are smaller then ours. Imagine always manhandling sandwiches that are two to three times normal size and you can relate to kids with full adult-sized sandwiches. This goes for all their food. Cut anything they have to hold in their hands into manageable sized pieces.
  3. Spills always happen, but they can be minimized. Try placing a paper doily at the top of your child’s plate or someplace where you know a cup won’t be likely to spill. Then teach the child that the cup belongs on the doily. Even the youngest child will learn quickly to always place his cup back on the doily and out of harm’s way.
  4. Start giving your little ones only half of items like candy bars, gum, and popsicles. When you go out to eat, split a hamburger or order of fries between two younger children. You can even ask for an extra cup and split milk shakes and drinks. Better yet, just order water. Save the milkshakes and drinks for a special treat and the kids will appreciate them more.
  5. Control snacks. Don’t just let the kids graze all day on candy and chips. Give children healthier things to fill them up, like like popcorn or a piece of fruit at specific time intervals.
  6. Feed toddlers and preschoolers your leftovers. They usually don’t balk at them like older children do. All those two tablespoon leftovers that are hardly worth saving are usually just the right amount for younger children.



For more tips to help you save money on kids’ expenses, check out our Saving With Kids e-books.


photo by: carbonnyc



  1. tiff says

    I tell my kids that once they are four then they will have to eat crusts — this works. Also I think that it is a bad habit to get kids to drink with their meals – maybe a couple of mouthfuls after but no more – you want them to drink before but not after as it will make them feel hungrier faster

    • says

      Tiff, I think this is a great idea. If the kids are told when little they have to eat crusts they get use to the idea and don’t usually bulk when it comes time to do it. I did this with my kids and dating. From the time they were tiny we always told them they weren’t allowed to date until they were sixteen. We did this over and over. When they grew up they didn’t even ask if they could go out because it was like it was written in stone. Good idea.

  2. Katrina says

    If you are baking a cake and you have young children, save some of the batter. Pour the batter into cupcake papers, and bake cupcakes for children under 5 years old.For very young children, you can slice the cupcake in half.

  3. Leanne says

    Put little kid’s drink in a juice glass ( i always gave my children glasses not cups tight off the bat, then they learned a out glasses straight away) and only half way full. You can always pour more. I didn’t use sippy cups because then I had to wean them off that, why not just cut to the chase? I also used salad plates for my kids. Adult portion control, I only use a 9 inch plate. I can always get seconds, right?usually you find your firsts were plenty.

  4. Magdalen says

    Thank you there’s some very good advice here for feeding small ones. Just wondering whether “When you get to four years old, you can eat the lovely crusts like the grown ups do.” would help.

  5. Grizzly bear mom says

    Grandman grew up in a starving Germany after WWI and taught us it was a sin to waste food. She told me that if I ate crusts my hair would get curly. I’m 53 and still waiting.


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