Researchers found that caregivers can lower the calorie density (CD) of children's meals by choosing palatable lower-CD products like grilled chicken pieces and reduced-sugar applesauce.

"With acceptable and readily available products, strategies to reduce calories can be easily implemented in homes and childcare settings and can be strategically combined with changes in portion size by serving larger portions of lower-CD foods with smaller portions of higher-CD foods," said co-author Barbara Rolls from Pennsylvania State University, US.

The team varied the portion size and CD, or number of calories per bite, for lunch served to children in their normal eating environment.

Lunch was served in three childcare centres once a week for six weeks to 120 children aged three to five.

The lunch menu had either lower-calorie or higher-calorie versions of chicken, macaroni and cheese, vegetables, applesauce, ketchup and milk.

When served a combination of larger portion and higher CD meals, the children's intake increased by 175 calories, or 79 percent, in a single meal. Children's ratings of the foods indicated that the lower-calorie and higher-calorie meals were similarly well liked, the results showed.

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