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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 Needed4-6 years Daily Amount Needed
Grains3 ounces4 ounces
Bread; Bagel ¼-½ slice or bagel1 slice; ½ bagel
Cold cereal ½ cup½-1 cup
Cooked cereal; pasta; rice¼-½ cup½ cup
Crackers2-34-6
Fruit1 cup1 cup
Whole, fresh½-1 small½-1 small
Cooked; canned1/3 cup½ cup
Dried
1-2 Tbsps2 Tbsps
Juice¼-1/3 cup½ cup
Vegetables1 cup1 ½ cups
Whole, fresh½ small½-1 small
Raw, leafy greens¼-½ cup ½-1 cup
Cooked; canned2-3 Tbsps¼-½ cup
Juice¼-1/3 cup1/3 - ½ cup
Dairy or Non-Dairy Substitute2 cups2 ½ cups
Milk; Soymilk; Yogurt½-¾ cup ½-1 cup
Cheese½ ounce¾ ounce
Protein2 ounces3 ounces
Beef, poultry, fish1-2 ounces1-2 ounces
Beans1-2 Tbsps2-3 Tbsps
Nuts; seeds¼ ounce¼-½ ounce
Nut butter1–2 tsps2–3 tsps
Egg½-11
Fats3 tsps4 tsps
Butter; margarine½-1 tsp1 tsp
Oil½-1 tsp1 tsp
Salad dressing; mayonnaise1–2 tsps½-1 Tbsps
Cream cheese1–2 tsps½-1 Tbsps
Desserts (small cookie; brownie; mini piece of candy)0-1 petite serving each day0-1 petite serving each day

Takeaways

  • 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.

References

  1. Castle JL and Jacobsen MT. Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School. Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2013.

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