Correct Food Portions for Kids from Baby-8 Years

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Know what food portions and serving sizes you should be feeding your little one. Get recommended serving sizes by age from birth through age 8.

Boy holding hands up to face and smiling
And it doesn’t get more stressful than when you have kids to feed. You can have a child who barely eats anything. You can have a child who has a food aversion and basically doesn’t eat at all. You can have a child who seems to be eating more than humanly possible. Is your child getting enough? Too much? How much should you offer? AAAAaaahhhhhhh!!!!!Food is a basic need in life. It seems like it is something we should be able to manage intuitively, right? We shouldn’t have to think about it so much! But it is a huge part of our day to day and such a stress in many ways.

While there are some good things to understand about food and nutrition, I personally think it is all simpler than we sometimes make it out to be. But with our own personal issues with food and body image that we bring to the table, it can be hard to step back and relax about it all.

A Balanced Approach on Serving Sizes

My basic philosophy in feeding my children so far as food portions goes is to feed the child until the child is done eating. I have an eater who has often eaten so little I wondered if she could really survive on it.

I have the other extreme to where I have to really wonder if her legs are hallow…and that is all before the teenage years ever hit!

There is no doubt, there are more overweight children today than there ever have been. Because of that, many people might have a desire to limit the amount of food a child eats.

I am no nutritionist so I won’t pretend to be one. And you definitely should talk to your doctor if you are having weight concerns.

But let’s speak intuitively for a minute.

If your child is of “normal’ health status and you offer your child a varied diet from the beginning and make healthy foods a normal part of each meal, it stands to reason you can let your child set his or her own pace on how much food to eat. Your child can set portion sizes.

Granted if you let the child set the pace on sweets and snack foods, many would not cut themselves off (Brayden would–he has noticed he doesn’t feel good when he over-indulges at family parties and he doesn’t let himself go that far–even as a 14 year old boy, he very rarely overeats. But a couple of my other kids would over-indulge away).

Remember my child who doesn’t eat much? I have to monitor and require her fruits and vegetables. If I left her to her own devices, she would live off of carbs (and I so sympathize with her!). My child who eats a ton of food lives primarily off of fruits and vegetables. These two girls are in the end at right about the same place on the growth curve for weight even though they eat a drastically different amount.

People just have different needs and metabolisms, so it is very smart to learn to listen to your body.

There are guidelines for us as parents so we can have some guidance on how to much to expect our kids to eat. We don’t have to go just by “intuition.”

So here is what you want to know–how much food will your child eat?

correct food portions pinnable image for Pinterest

Food Portions for Baby (0-12 Months)

For your baby who is eating solid foods, plan on about the following:

  • 24-32 ounces of a milk in a day (formula or breastmilk)
  • At breakfast, offer 2-4  T of fruit and a grain.
  • At lunch and dinner, offer 2-4 T of fruit and 2-4 T of vegetables. One of my children also liked some oatmeal at dinner.

Start with those basics and adjust as you get to know your baby’s personal needs. I have had a huge range among my four children. If you are offering healthy foods, trust your baby to know when he or she is done eating. A normal healthy baby will not let herself starve. There are babies out there who fight food, and if you are a mother to one you already know it. Consult with a doctor about foods if you are in that circumstance.

Also be mindful of growth spurts. Your baby will likely eat more food during growth spurts.You baby also might have one meal where she eats a lot and then the next where she eats almost nothing.  Read all about Growth Spurts here.

Food Portions for Pre-Toddler (12-18 Months) and Toddler (18 months to 3 years)

This is a stressful age because your child starts to overtake the job of feeding herself. The amount your child eats will vary depending on her own natural metabolism and her activity level. There is a rule out there for children ages 1-3 to eat 40 calories per inch of height. Counting calories does not sound appealing to me! But it might to you.

As a general rule, a child in this age range will still eat:

As you give food to your child, keep in mind the myplate plate image from the USDA. Read more about it and see the image on their site

Snacks for Babies and Toddlers

The food plate gives you an idea of how to portion out the meal. But don’t live and die by it! Remember that ten years ago, it was all about the pyramid. Now it is the plate. Trust your instinct. And remember nutrition isn’t all about one meal–it is about how it looks over the week. If your child wants to eat mostly fruit one lunch time, do it! She will likely have a meal later in the week where she is all about the vegetables.

Let me give a caveat–if your child always wants the fruit and no veggies, take measures to help with that. Give the unwanted food first with no other foods and let her eat that for a bit before you bring out the favorites.


Read: Tips for Feeding Your Pre-Toddler


Food Portions for Preschoolers and Children Ages 4-8 Years

Children in the age range of 4-8 eat a different amount than 9 years old and up. Even when you are planning for food storage, suggested amounts to store are different for a 6 year old than a 10 year old. Makes sense right? We all have heard the stories about teens and their appetites…

In this age range, have a standard for your family. How often will you eat? Some families like to eat six smaller meals a day. Some eat three meals plus two snacks. We do three meals and one snack at our house. Have a standard and set it. So far as snacks go, if your child doesn’t eat well at mealtimes, cut down on snack time.


Read: Overcoming the Difficulties of Feeding Healthy Snacks to Kids


And of course, offer healthy food for snacks. I like snacks to be fruits and vegetables. I just find people rarely over-indulge in fruits and vegetables and I am okay with dinner portions being lessened because of fruits and vegetables being eaten earlier.

Remember growth spurts still happen until a person is all the way done growing. If my child is hungry at a time that is abnormal, I allow fruits or vegetables to be eaten. Just have a family policy so you don’t head down a path to unhealthy eating habits.

So far as how much to feed a child in this age range, linked below are a couple of helpful charts if you want things broken down into quantifiable amounts. Still keep in mind your food plate pictured above.

Growth Spurts and Preteens

Preteens have growth spurts just like babies did. Also just like babies, tweens add on weight before having the growth spurt. With a baby, you wouldn’t have been concerned. We all love those baby rolls! But parents can easily look at their preteen who is getting a little chubby and get concerned. 

Please do not be outwardly concerned! Please DO NOT comment on your child’s weight or make comments about exercising. Yes, we all want our children to have healthy weight. That is what is best for them physically. Recognize that the way the body goes through growth spurts is to add weight before adding length. So it is normal. It is not time to start an exercise routine for your child or talk to your child about portion control. 

The tween years can be a very sensitive time when parents can easily and inadvertently start body image issues in their children, especially girls. Please be mindful of anything you say or suggest. Children are smart. They can see through your “hey, we should all start running every morning!” comments. Be careful you help with healthy eating and do not set up your child for eating disorders. 

Correct food portions for kids pinnable image

General Tips for Feeding Kids

Here are some general tips when feeding your children that apply to all ages 0-8.

  • If your child tends to be picky, give the food the child is picky about first. The child is more likely to eat that food when hungrier. For older children, I give all food at once but require what was given to be eaten before seconds are given of favored foods (or sometimes before the child leaves the table).
  • Give small amounts at a time. When you first put food on your child’s plate, put a small amount of each food so your child doesn’t get overwhelmed at the food before her. This is a tip my husband’s grandmother swears her life on, and I have found it to be true.
  • Feed the rainbow. If you focus on feeding a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables, it helps you get that variety of nutrients in there.
  • Get all of the food groups in there. Refer back to the myplate example to see which food groups to focus on and to get a visual of the portions of each food group to aim for.

Conclusion

These tips can help you have peace of mind when you are feeding your children. A great rule of thumb when you are considering what kids eat and wondering if you should worry about it or not is to consider their sleep and disposition. For babies and toddlers, how are naps? If they nap and sleep well, they typically are eating enough.

You can also watch growth curves with your doctor. So long as your little one is following her curve, she should be good. It is when they jump around a curve or drop off a curve that concerns rise. 

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valplowman
valplowman

Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at Babywise.life, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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8 Comments

  1. Shea Lafferty
    October 22, 2013 / 2:42 PM

    I agree. I firmly believe that you should feed a child when they are hungry. There are so many things going on with them when they are young including brain development that requires increased nutrition at times. That being said, I also think as a parent, you should control the quality of the food they eat. If they have been allowed some chips or sweets and come back hungry for more give them 2 healthy choices to pick from like "Do you want a banana or apple? Or do you want yogurt or cheese? Or carrots or cucumber? My children do very well with this method. I truly believe that the child obesity is more a result of decreased activity and poor quality food instead of how much children eat during the day.

  2. ~Nikole~
    October 23, 2013 / 3:10 AM

    I recently attended a Public Health class about this exact topic! It was so interesting and certainly beneficial. My 7 month old is a great eater, but I still learned a few things to help me in the future (in case future kids aren't so awesome). The basic rule the AHS (Alberta Health Services) laid out was this:Parents are in control of What, When and Where Food is Eaten. Children are in control of If they eat, and How Much to Eat. Children know their own appetites and sometimes, they just aren't very hungry! But if we as parents are providing the healthy food choices at proper times (BabyWise certainly helps with this) the kids will get the nutrition they need. Forcing kids to eat causes negative food experiences, which can lead to food aversions, obesity, and other negative habits. When my son is done, I don't force him to finish because I know he knows his own body and appetite better than I do. So far, it's been great and has turned my already awesome eater into an All Star! Sorry for the long comment, I really wanted to share what I recently learned about this topic! Thanks for the great blog! I'm in awe! Thanks again!

  3. Valerie Plowman
    October 23, 2013 / 8:28 PM

    Thank you so much for your comments ladies! I appreciated it. Good thoughts.Nikole thanks for sharing that. That is what I was trying to get at. I am glad my thoughts are close enough to true that someone else thinks the same thing 🙂

  4. Alex
    February 23, 2014 / 10:57 AM

    Hi, my baby is 10 months old and eats her veggies, grains and meat blended, but with a bit of texture. Lately, she eats about 6 or 7 spoonfuls and then puts her hands in front of mouth and nose, so that I will stop feeling her. BUT, if I add yogurt to the tip of the spoon with food on it, she will eat A LOT more. Should I encourage this habit? Should I stop feeding her food when she signals done, or should I add the yogurt and keep going? Any advice would help. Thanks!

  5. Ashley
    December 18, 2014 / 10:38 PM

    We just started solids with our 6 month old and are now at 1 T of oat cereal 2 times a day. When you say 2-4 T of a fruit and grain, do you mean 2-4 T each of fruit and grain or combined? Also, she was eating between 32 and 35 ounces of formula and breastmilk combined a day before we started solids. How much should we decrease her bottle intake (if any)? I know I'm over-complicating this, but I'm an engineer and can't help it! 🙂 Thanks for the help!

    • Valerie Plowman
      December 23, 2014 / 1:04 AM

      Haha–my husband is an engineer so I know all about it :)For the 2-4 of a fruit and a grain, I would often mix the fruit with the grain. So say 1-2 T of the grain, add in 1-2 T of the fruit and then as much liquid as needed. But not all babies like them mixed. Also, don't be afraid to feed her more if she wants more. Different children eat different amounts. Feed the bottle first and then offer the solids. So stick with your normal amount of bottle and then do solids.

  6. Roxana Cooper
    July 20, 2015 / 8:35 PM

    Hi! From what I understood in BW- rice cereal was to be introduced with 1 Tbsp day 1, then 2 Tbsp day 2 and so on until you're up to 1/4 cup dry cereal (4 tbsp). So as I introduce veggies next I would decrease the cereal by 2 tbsp and replace with 2 tbsp of veggies/fruit, right? In other words, the meal portion total should be about about 1/4 cup per meal through the 1st year?Thank you!

  7. Valerie Plowman
    July 28, 2015 / 12:48 AM

    I always just did the food I was introducing first and then still offer the same amount of others, but if the baby didn't want more I would be okay with that. That is why I liked to do nursing first. That way the milk was there and I could offer as many solids as baby wanted without spoiling the milk portion.

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