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Portion Sizes for Kids

Portion Sizes for Kids

Right Sizing: A Guide to Kid-Friendly Portions

Feeding young children takes patience, common sense and lots of love. Your reward is knowing that healthy eating habits help children get the energy and important nutrients they need to be their best. When it comes to managing your family’s healthy eating, knowing the correct portion sizes for kids is a great place to start.

Food Supplies Nutrients for Growth

Two- to six-year-olds are growing, learning, developing motor skills and becoming more independent. They require the same nutrients adults do, but in different amounts. Since no one food or food group supplies all nutrients, encourage kids to eat a variety of different foods each day. For example, offer foods from three or more food groups for breakfast and lunch and from four or more groups for dinner. Keeping food interesting with different flavors, colors and textures is important to consider when planning portion sizes for children.

Food Gives Energy

Kids need calories (energy) to fuel their activities. How many calories? That depends on age, body size and activity levels. A good gauge is whether your child is growing normally, has energy for play and feels healthy. To help you decide how much and what types of food to offer, go to and enter your child’s age, gender and activity level. MyPlate will recommend an appropriate daily portion size for kids from each food group.

Right-Sizing Food for Kids

When it comes to planning portion sizes for children, it can be tricky to predict how much food youngsters will eat at any given meal or snack. Their appetites may vary from day-to-day or from one eating occasion to the next. Factors include time of day, degree of hunger, familiarity of foods, activity level, being over-tired and growth spurts.

In general, two- to three-year-olds need the same type of food group foods as four- to six-year-olds, but smaller portions because their calorie needs are lower. One exception: two- to six-year-old children need two daily servings of calcium-rich foods from the Dairy Group for strong bones and teeth. By four years of age, most children are ready for regular-size portions. Go to to learn more.

Tips for “Serving It Up” to Young Children

  • Offer meals and snacks at about the same time each day. Allow enough time between feedings for kids to become hungry.
  • Provide plenty of time for meals and snacks. Children need time to eat and recognize their bodies’ signals that they are satisfied.
  • Use child-sized plates and cups. These keep portions in line with young appetites and are easier for children to handle.
  • Let your child’s appetite guide you. Start with small portion sizes for kids and let them ask for more if they’re still hungry. Urging children to finish everything on their plates can lead to less healthful eating over time.
  • Introduce new foods one at a time with “just a taste” portions. It often takes a number of trials before a new food is accepted. If your child sees you eating a food, he or she is more likely to try it.
  • Plan on snacks to fill nutrient gaps and satisfy between-meal hunger. Young children may need a mid-morning, midafternoon and small bedtime snack.
  • Offer kid-size snack portions. Try two graham cracker squares with a half-cup of orange juice, a cheese slice and a half-cup of applesauce or a four-ounce container of yogurt.
  • Don’t go it alone. Check with a health professional if you are concerned that a child is eating too little or too much. Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a dietitian if your child is overweight or underweight or if his or her food habits are especially worrisome.
  • Supervise children when they eat. This helps you deal with potentially dangerous situations such as choking, falls or spills.
  • Be aware of specific foods. Some foods including popcorn, carrots, celery, grapes, raisins, cubes of cheese, chunks of meat, hot dogs, nuts or peanut butter and hard or sticky candies, may cause choking in children under 6 years of age. These types of foods should be chopped into small pieces or spread very thinly for young children.

Source: National SAFE KIDS Campaign and International Food Information Council Foundation

Try these easy-to-prepare Healthy Living recipes and see how appealing portion sizes for children can be.

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