No matter what growth or development stage your child is at, portions are pretty confusing for parents—so we’re taking on the legwork and making it easy!

We’ve researched all the important guidelines you need to know and put together a comprehensive portions guide, from toddler to teen, so you can rest easy.

 

Toddlers & Preschoolers (2 to 4 years)

In the toddler and preschool years, it’s important to serve your child what’s best for their nutrition (think lots of whole foods) in the correct portion sizes and then let them eat according to appetite. In other words, don’t micromanage or force them to finish their plate—we’re looking at you, veggie pushers!

According to the Infant and Toddler Forum, which is led by various experts in pediatric healthcare, appetites at this state can greatly vary based on height and activity level and will likely change from day-to-day or even meal-to-meal. This is why it’s especially important for your child to listen to his or her own hunger signals.

For Reference:
Protein: 4 thin slices of ham or 1 egg, at 2-3 servings per day
Dairy: 1/2 cup cow’s milk or 1/2 cup yogurt, at 3 servings per day
Veggies: 2 tbsp. of green beans, 4 broccoli florets or 8 celery sticks (small), at 2 servings each meal
Fruits: Half a medium banana or half a kiwi, at 1-2 servings per day (this can be subbed out for veggies only)
Grains: 4 potato wedges or 4 tbsp. of mashed potatoes, at 1 serving per day

Pro Tip:
It’s all about presentation and exploration with kiddos this age. If the food looks different or has added spices, they might not be inclined to try it. Experiment with different shapes, but stick to familiar base foods, and most importantly, make it fun!

Early Childhood (5 to 8 years)

Variety. Variety. Variety. This stage is where you can get really experimental with meals and add more spice and flavor. Try foods from different cultures and push past the same ol’ kids’ chicken fingers and apple slices you’ll find at most restaurants. Your kids will welcome the new foods.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests upgrading to full portions of fruits and veggies at this age, such as a whole banana, apple and handful of grapes. For proteins, fill a quarter of the plate with beans, legumes or a lean meat. Avoid foods high in sugar, especially sodas. Water is encouraged at the dinner table!

For Reference:
Protein: 2-3 ounces of meat or 1/2 cup cooked beans, at 2 servings per day
Dairy: 1 cup yogurt or 1 oz. cheese, at 3 servings per day
Veggies: 1 cup salad or 1/2 cup cooked carrots or broccoli, at 3 servings per day
Fruits: 1 medium banana or 1/2 cup pure fruit juice, at 2-3 servings per day (this can be subbed out for veggies only)
Grains: 1/2 cup cooked pasta or 1 slice whole-wheat toast, at 1 serving per day

Pro Tip:
Switch up the menu and try something more creative, while still incorporating their favorites. Don’t sweat it if they don’t like all their veggies. Those more prone to a sweet tooth will still latch onto sweet corn, carrots, tomato sauces and stir-fry vegetables.

Preteen (9 to 12 years)

It’s time to get a little more hands-off with eating at this age, as your child will have probably developed what they consider to be their palette for the time being. This is also a really good time to ask your child to cook a meal for the family every once in awhile so the option is in their hands. They might even develop a lifelong passion for cooking!

The nutritionists over at SuperKids Nutrition believe these years are an especially important development stage for adulthood, so nutrition is at its most important. Portion sizes can slowly increase to where most adults should be—about 2 1/2 cups of dairy, 3 cups of veggies and 5 ounces of protein.

For Reference:
Protein: 5 ounces of meat, at 2 servings per day
Dairy: 2 cups yogurt or 1 oz. cheese, at 3 servings per day
Veggies: 2 cups salad or 1 cup cooked carrots or broccoli, at 3 servings per day
Fruits: 1 medium banana, at 2-3 servings per day (this can be subbed out for veggies only)
Grains: 1 mini bagel or 1/2 cup cooked pasta, at 1 serving per day

Pro Tip:
Don’t get pushy with food intake. Your child’s appetite can fluctuate quite a bit at this stage, so it’s important to have a judgment-free zone when it comes to the kitchen.

Teenagers (13 to 18 years)

The older they get, the less control you’ll probably have over food choices (hello, lunches out with friends and fast food during game nights). These are also big growth years. Your teenager will want to sleep more and eat more, so portions may increase during this time.

Portions can be adult-sized by this point, but education on appropriate portion sizes should be a priority. Relate portions to everyday items (a deck of cards is a serving of protein) for ease–chances are, measuring spoons are nowhere to be found in the school cafeteria. Also, be cognizant of commenting on eating habits during this stage. Empower your children to make good choices, but don’t criticize or shame them for any unhealthy choices they do make.

For Reference:
Protein: 8 ounces of meat, at 2 servings per day
Dairy: 2 cups yogurt or 1 oz. cheese, at 3 servings per day
Veggies: 3 cups salad or 1 cup cooked carrots or broccoli, at 3 servings per day
Fruits: 1/4 melon, at 2-3 servings per day (this can be subbed out for veggies only)
Grains: 2 slices of bread or 1 cup cooked pasta, at 1 serving per day

Pro Tip:
Keep healthy snacks around, so your teens always know what’s available in the house should they get hungry between meals. This might include mozzarella sticks, chopped fruits or nuts.​

 

Source: ACTIVEkids

The Right Portion Sizes for Every Age

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