What Portion Sizes Should I Be Feeding My Young Child?

How much food does a young child need? Will my child starve?

How much does my child need to eat? It’s so hard to know what is enough and we worry our kids are not getting the nourishment they need. Many times we think kids aren’t eating “anything” when in fact, they are eating the appropriate portion sizes for their age.

Children’s stomachs are not as big as an adult. A muffin tin cup is enough fruit or vegetable for a child’s portion sizes, and protein and grain are even less.

Is my child eating enough?


Kids go through phases where they grow in spurts and are very hungry and sleep a lot. Then they have times when they are not growing fast and are just not hungry. Remember what appropriate portions sizes are for them and you will be much less likely to worry about it. I promise you, they will eat when they are hungry.

What Portion Sizes Should I Be Feeding My Young Child?

Here are a few tips to help you in feeding your young children.
  1. Milk is food. If kids are drinking a ton of milk or juice, they aren’t going to be hungry because they are getting the nutrients from their drinks and their stomachs are full.
  2. Don’t make a big deal out of eating. They are less likely to want to eat if it is making you emotional. Just offer them food and don’t worry if they don’t eat. They will eat when they need to.
  3. Don’t feed them a lot of snacks. Giving kids a few crackers or cookies may fill them up and make them avoid more nutritious foods at meal time. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great snacks that aren’t too filling.
Here are the portion sizes recommended by USDA for the food program.

These guidelines will help you understand what are reasonable portion sizes. For most kids, these meals are more than they want to eat, but it gives you a guide of how much to cook to make available to them if you’re a childcare provider on a food program.

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What Portion Sizes Should I Be Feeding My Young Child?

Breakfast: (Select all three components for a reimbursable meal)

Fluid Milk

Ages 1-2               4 ounces              (1/2 cup)

Ages 3-5               6 ounces              (3/4 cup)

(Think about most sippy cups. They hold about 12-16 ounces. Remember if you fill that with milk, you are giving young children 2-4 servings of milk for that one meal. That is all they need for an entire day! That will fill them up.)

Vegetables, fruits, or portions of both

Ages 1-2               ¼ cup

Ages 3-5               ½ cup

If you are unfamiliar with what these sizes look like, use a measuring cup to measure out portions for a while until you get the feel for what they look like. If you want to serve fruits and veggies for this meal, you can do half of the portion of one, such as 1/8 cup of one and 1/8 cup of the other.

Grains

Bread

Ages 1-2               ½ slice

Ages 3-5               ½ slice

Bread product

Ages 1-2               ½ serving

Ages 3-5               ½ serving

Check the package for serving sizes.

Cereal or grain

Ages 1-2               ¼ cup

Ages 3-5               ¼ cup

Dry Cereal

Ages 1-2               ½ cup

Ages 3-5               ½ cup

 

Lunch and Supper (Select all five components for a reimbursable meal)

Fluid Milk

Ages 1-2               4 ounces              (1/2 cup)

Ages 3-5               6 ounces              (3/4 cup)

Meat/meat alternates Lean meat, poultry, or fish

Ages 1-2               1 ounce

Ages 3-5               1 ½ ounce

Tofu, soy product, or alternate protein products

Ages 1-2               1 ½ ounce

Ages 3-5               2 ounces

Cheese

Ages 1-2               1 ounce

Ages 3-5               1 ½ ounce

Large egg

Ages 1-2               ½

Ages 3-5               ¾

Cooked dry beans or peas

Ages 1-2               ¼ cup

Ages 3-5               ⅜ cup

Peanut butter or soy nut butter or other nut or seed butters

Ages 1-2               2 tbsp

Ages 3-5               3 tbsp

This is a LOT of nut butter and it’s hard to serve kids this much. I like to add cheese on the side or other protein to supplement.

Vegetables

Ages 1-2               ⅛ cup

Ages 3-5               ¼ cup

Fruits

Ages 1-2               ⅛ cup

Ages 3-5               ¼ cup

Grains

Bread

Ages 1-2               ½ slice

Ages 3-5               ½ slice

Bread product

Ages 1-2               ½ serving

Ages 3-5               ½ serving

Check the package for serving sizes.

Cereal, grain or pasta

Ages 1-2               ¼ cup

Ages 3-5               ¼ cup

Snack (Select two of the five components for a reimbursable snack)

Fluid Milk

Ages 1-2               4 fluid ounces

Ages 3-5               4 fluid ounces

Meat/meat alternates Lean meat, poultry, fish, cheese

Ages 1-2               ½ ounce

Ages 3-5               ½ ounce

Tofu, soy product, or alternate protein products

Ages 1-2               ½ ounce

Ages 3-5               ½ ounce

Large egg

Ages 1-2               ½

Ages 3-5               ½

Cooked dry beans or peas

Ages 1-2               ⅛ cup

Ages 3-5               ⅛ cup

Peanut butter or soy nut butter or other nut or seed butters

Ages 1-2               1 tbsp

Ages 3-5               1 tbsp

Yogurt

Ages 1-2               2 ounces or ¼ cup

Ages 3-5               2 ounces or ¼ cup

Fruits or Vegetables

Ages 1-2               ½ cup

Ages 3-5               ½ cup

Bread

Ages 1-2               ½ slice

Ages 3-5               ½ slice

Bread Product

Ages 1-2               ½ serving

Ages 3-5               ½ serving

Cereal or grain

Ages 1-2               ¼ cup

Ages 3-5               ¼ cup

Dry Cereal

Ages 1-2               ½ cup

Ages 3-5               ½ cup

Granola

Ages 1-2               ⅛ cup

Ages 3-5               ⅛ cup

You can see this is not a lot of food compared to what we think of as a portion. Serving sizes for all of us keep getting bigger and bigger and so do we. It’s much easier to get the variety you need for your diet if you break down the portion sizes like this. 



Don’t stress if it seems like your child is not eating enough. Kids will eat when they are hungry. Hang in there and relax so mealtime can be laid back for your child and you. Portion sizes are a guideline and kids won’t eat all of these things at once sometimes. These can just help give you a general idea of what’s appropriate for the average child.

Portion sizes are smaller than you think for young children.

Don’t forget to pin for later!

How much food does a young child need? Will my child starve?

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7 comments

  1. Thank you for posting this article. This will be a Very Usefull tool to review with my staff!

  2. Yavonna says:

    Great Info for Parents that dont think there kids are eating because they might be drinking to much. Thanks

  3. Lisa Blinde says:

    Is there an easy cup, 1/2 cup measurement for oz of cooked meat. was trying to figure this out the other day. I don’t have a scale to weight. Thanks!

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