Growing a healthy toddler means knowing which foods to offer and in what serving size.
Studies show that parents may not always get the portions right. Sometimes they offer adult-sized portions, and other times they refuse second helpings when the child is still hungry. Platefuls of food can be a turnoff for little kids, and not getting enough to eat can be frustrating and uncomfortable, leaving an important question: how can parents make sure they are on target with food portions?
More and more, the research is telling parents to tune into their child’s appetite and let him or her eat to satisfy it. Start with offering a small portion of most or all of the food groups at mealtime, and allow your child to eat as much as he or she needs to satisfy his or her appetite. If your child is still hungry and asks for more food, it’s a good idea to give another helping and let the child eat until they are naturally full.
It’s helpful to know where to begin when it comes to serving sizes. It’s best to start with small portions, as your child can always ask for more. Below is a chart that outlines how much food to start out with from each food group, as well as your child’s minimum amount needed for each one on a daily basis, taking into account his or her age. Your child’s stage of growth, appetite, and level of activity will dictate how much food should be provided. This can vary day to day.
As you can see, portion sizes grow with your child. It isn’t until the teenage years that your child will need portions of food that are similar to yours.
|Food Groups||2-3 years||Daily Amount Needed||4-6 years||Daily Amount Needed|
|Grains||3 ounces||4 ounces|
|Bread; Bagel||¼-½ slice or bagel||1 slice; ½ bagel|
|Cold cereal||½ cup||½-1 cup|
|Cooked cereal; pasta; rice||¼-½ cup||½ cup|
|Fruit||1 cup||1 cup|
|Whole, fresh||½-1 small||½-1 small|
|Cooked; canned||1/3 cup||½ cup|
|Dried ||1-2 Tbsps||2 Tbsps|
|Juice||1/2 cup (4 oz.)||½ cup|
|Vegetables||1 cup||1 ½ cups|
|Whole, fresh||½ small||½-1 small|
|Raw, leafy greens||¼-½ cup||½-1 cup|
|Cooked; canned||2-3 Tbsps||¼-½ cup|
|Juice||¼-1/3 cup||1/3 - ½ cup|
|Dairy or Non-Dairy Substitute||2 cups||2 ½ cups|
|Milk; Soymilk; Yogurt||½-¾ cup||½-1 cup|
|Cheese||½ ounce||¾ ounce|
|Protein||2 ounces||3 ounces|
|Beef, poultry, fish||1-2 ounces||1-2 ounces|
|Beans||1-2 Tbsps||2-3 Tbsps|
|Nuts; seeds||¼ ounce||¼-½ ounce|
|Nut butter||1–2 tsps||2–3 tsps|
|Fats||3 tsps||4 tsps|
|Butter; margarine||½-1 tsp||1 tsp|
|Oil||½-1 tsp||1 tsp|
|Salad dressing; mayonnaise||1–2 tsps||½-1 Tbsps|
|Cream cheese||1–2 tsps||½-1 Tbsps|
|Desserts (small cookie; brownie; mini piece of candy)||0-1 petite serving each day||0-1 petite serving each day|
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020
- Children need a minimum amount of servings from each food group each day to meet their required nutrients for growth and development.
- Start out with small servings, and let your child’s appetite govern the amount of food he eats (more or less food).
- Offer each of the food groups daily at meals and snacks, attempting to showcase a balance of foods and targeting the daily amounts your child needs.