Portion Size Guide for Kids
How much food should your child eat? How do you know if you’re over- or under-serving your child?
Do servings change as your child grows? These are the questions about portion sizes for kids that weigh on parents’ minds like you.
So much so, I created a portion size guide to help you out.
If you find yourself wondering how much to feed your child, you’re not alone.
Or, if you’re worried about your child eating too little or too much, this post will help put your mind at ease with information you can use today.
A Portion Size Guide for Kids
There is a lot of information about portion sizes for kids.
The USDA My Plate reviews portion sizes for all Americans (except children aged 0-2 years), so if you’re curious about how much you should be eating, head over there to find out.
If you have a little one, check out my article on how much you can feed your baby.
As it relates to kids, however, let’s review what we know to date:
Eating Behavior and Portion Sizes
In a nutshell: The larger the amount of food served, the more your child may eat.
According to a review article published in 2009 by investigators from the Netherlands, among adults, the larger the portion of food served, the more they ate.
It didn’t matter whether they liked the taste of the food or not.
Furthermore, the impact of eating larger portion sizes persisted beyond the meal. Folks continued to eat larger portions and did not cut back on calorie intake later on to compensate.
What Does this Mean for Children?
While we like to think that children are great at self-regulating their food consumption, the truth is, many kids just aren’t very good at it.
A number of influences may sway your child to eat more (or less) food:
Interference from caretakers:
Caretakers who urge a child to eat more, or less, ignore the child’s hunger or fullness signals, which can “turn off” his ability to know when to start or stop eating.
Peer and social influence:
Kids want to eat what their friends are eating, which is a normal part of child development.
The impact of taste:
If food tastes good, many kids will eat it.
Taste is a known driver of food choice and can reinforce more eating.
How many times have you had seconds, not because you’re hungry, but because food tastes good?
Eating in the Absence of Hunger:
A behavior your child may learn in childhood (usually between ages 5-9), whereby eating happens despite not being hungry.
Instead, eating occurs out of habit, boredom, emotional and/or celebratory reasons.
A Food Portion Guide as a Starting Point
Many parents welcome a portion size chart for serving food to their children, especially if they are plating food.
Knowing where to begin with portion sizes is a great way to model “normal” food portions on the plate, particularly if you’re serving meals “family-style.”
You may find you need to cut back on portion sizes, or even add to what you’ve been accustomed to serving.
Rather, I want you to think of food portions as a way to model healthy amounts of food to begin eating. and, of course, food balance.
Most children will have appetites that vary day-to-day and month-to-month—this is very normal.
When children are growing, like during the adolescent growth spurt, their appetites naturally spike.
You will see this demonstrated by more hunger and food intake.
Allowing seconds, or perhaps, thirds during these growth periods is perfectly fine.
Conversely, lags in growth (or slowed growth), similar to what you may see in toddlerhood, can reflect a reduced appetite and less eating.
Ultimately, children should eat an amount of food that leaves them satisfied, while ideally striking a balance of varied foods from the different food groups.
A Portion Size Guide for Children
My portion size chart will help you start off with a reasonable amount of food for your child.
Children need several servings of each food group to meet nutrient needs and energy requirements for normal growth and development.
This chart only gives you a serving size to start with, based on age.
Most of us don’t carry measuring cups and spoons around with us, making a misjudgement on serving sizes easy.
Try not to get too stressed out about being exact!
Do your best to offer starter portion sizes that are right for your child’s age, including a variety of foods from each food group.
Serve them at meals and snacks at predictable times throughout the day. Doing so may make your child more likely to eat the amounts that are right for him.
For more on correct portion sizes and how to manage them, be sure to put Fearless Feeding on your list of must-haves!
Let me know how you’re doing with portion sizes in your home!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase items from my Nutrition Store, I will receive a small percentage of the sale which helps support this blog. Thank you!
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: August 14, 2012
Updated on: November 24, 2018