How much is too much when it comes to food for your little ones? Is that kid-size meal really appropriate for all ages?
No matter what growth or development stage your child is at, portions are pretty confusing for parents—so we’re taking on the legwork and making it easy!
We’ve researched all the important guidelines you need to know and put together a comprehensive portions guide, from toddler to teen, so you can rest easy.
Toddlers & Preschoolers (2 to 4 years)
In the toddler and preschool years, it’s important to serve your child what’s best for their nutrition (think lots of whole foods) in the correct portion sizes and then let them eat according to appetite. In other words, don’t micromanage or force them to finish their plate—we’re looking at you, veggie pushers!
According to the Infant and Toddler Forum, which is led by various experts in pediatric healthcare, appetites at this state can greatly vary based on height and activity level and will likely change from day-to-day or even meal-to-meal. This is why it’s especially important for your child to listen to his or her own hunger signals.
Protein: 4 thin slices of ham or 1 egg, at 2-3 servings per day
Dairy: 1/2 cup cow’s milk or 1/2 cup yogurt, at 3 servings per day
Veggies: 2 tbsp. of green beans, 4 broccoli florets or 8 celery sticks (small), at 2 servings each meal
Fruits: Half a medium banana or half a kiwi, at 1-2 servings per day (this can be subbed out for veggies only)
Grains: 4 potato wedges or 4 tbsp. of mashed potatoes, at 1 serving per day
It’s all about presentation and exploration with kiddos this age. If the food looks different or has added spices, they might not be inclined to try it. Experiment with different shapes, but stick to familiar base foods, and most importantly, make it fun!
Early Childhood (5 to 8 years)
Variety. Variety. Variety. This stage is where you can get really experimental with meals and add more spice and flavor. Try foods from different cultures and push past the same ol’ kids’ chicken fingers and apple slices you’ll find at most restaurants. Your kids will welcome the new foods.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests upgrading to full portions of fruits and veggies at this age, such as a whole banana, apple and handful of grapes. For proteins, fill a quarter of the plate with beans, legumes or a lean meat. Avoid foods high in sugar, especially sodas. Water is encouraged at the dinner table!
Protein: 2-3 ounces of meat or 1/2 cup cooked beans, at 2 servings per day
Dairy: 1 cup yogurt or 1 oz. cheese, at 3 servings per day
Veggies: 1 cup salad or 1/2 cup cooked carrots or broccoli, at 3 servings per day
Fruits: 1 medium banana or 1/2 cup pure fruit juice, at 2-3 servings per day (this can be subbed out for veggies only)
Grains: 1/2 cup cooked pasta or 1 slice whole-wheat toast, at 1 serving per day
Switch up the menu and try something more creative, while still incorporating their favorites. Don’t sweat it if they don’t like all their veggies. Those more prone to a sweet tooth will still latch onto sweet corn, carrots, tomato sauces and stir-fry vegetables.