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Quick Portion Size Guide for Kids

Updated: Jan 31

Is my child getting enough?

Is my child eating too much?

How much food does my child need?

I get these questions all the time. A top concern among parents is whether their child is eating enough of what they need. It is well-known that a balanced diet, that is, a dietary pattern that consists of adequate nutrition intake from a variety of foods from all food groups, is best to support healthy growth and development. But what does that look like? And how do you do it? In this blog post, I cover the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, what portion sizes are, and provide you with a free, printable portion size guide for kids!

Early childhood experiences play a big part in establishing healthy eating habits down the road. Childhood is not an appropriate time for fad diets and food restrictions. It is a time to guide children to eating in a healthful, balanced way.

The Importance of a Balanced Diet for Kids

Children can be taught to eat in a healthful, balanced way, by exposing and offering them a variety of foods from different food groups. This helps children develop broader tastes and food preferences as adults, and also promotes a healthier relationship with food and body (thus, decreasing risk of eating disorders or disordered eating).

My Balanced Plate Approach™ adopts an all-foods-fit model and teaches that the food groups are:

❤️🍗 proteins

🧡🍞 grains/starches (carbs)

💙🥛 dairy/calcium

💜🍇 fruits

💚🥦 vegetables

💛🥑 healthy fats

💖🍪 fun foods (sometimes called play foods, or sweets and treats!)

I created and adopted this model for my private practice that specializes in eating disorder and disordered eating recovery and prevention, pediatric feeding therapy, and general pediatric nutrition. This approach offers flexibility in teaching balanced eating and offers a simple framework for how to adopt an all-foods-fit approach in their parenting feeding practices.

While in the past, many parent feeding practices focused on limiting or restricting sweets and treats to children, over 30 years of research has taught us that these tactics actually backfire. The American Academy of Pediatrics adopts several child feeding strategies and philosophies that encourage balanced eating behaviors, including the Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding. This framework encourages parents to not restrict "forbidden" foods (such as junk foods or sweets). Instead, offer sweets and treats at different eating occasions throughout the day and week along with other nutrient-dense foods. This helps to normalize and neutralize children's emotions around foods, allowing them to be more relaxed in different circumstances.

Think: your child will be more excited about the actual birthday party and playing with friends, then eating the cake (although with this approach, they can have their cake and eat it, too!). Over time, the Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding helps children develop skills to regulate their own food intake, thus setting them up for greater independence and eating competence in adulthood.

Portion Sizes for Kids

Okay, so we know that eating a variety of foods from all food groups is important - but how much of each food group do they need?

Portion Size vs Serving Size

A portion size is the amount of food you choose to serve your child at each meal or snack. A serving size is a measured amount of food or drink and can be determined by looking at the Nutrition Facts Label. For example, 8 crackers may be the serving size listed on a nutrition facts label, but the portion size for a toddler may only be 2-3 crackers.

How to Use Portion Sizes

It's important to remember that the serving size on a Nutrition Facts label may not be the right portion for your child, so knowing portion sizes is helpful for feeding your child the right amount for their needs. Children should learn about portion sizes at family meals, but should also be allowed to eat to satisfy their appetite. Portion sizes can satisfy both of these goals. My Quick Portion Size Guide for Kids provides age-appropriate portion sizes. This guide helps you and your child understand how much food to eat, with the understanding that more food is okay to have if they are hungry. Sometimes these are called "starter portions" because these are the portions to start with. If your child asks for more, go ahead and let them eat! If you have weight management concerns, I do not suggest you restrict second (or third helpings), and instead, seek the guidance of a Registered Dietitian or your Pediatrician. As kids grow, their portion sizes increase.

Get Your Quick Portion Size Guide for Kids

Download my Quick Portion Size Guide for Kids below to conveniently learn what portion sizes your child needs. Keep this simple, one-page handout handy in your kitchen for a quick reference! Never worry about whether your child is eating too much, or too little, again.

Use my Quick Portion Size Guide for Kids the next time you're unsure of how much food to serve your kids. And, if you're looking for more tips and tricks on healthy eating for kids, be sure to join my email list and follow me on social media! I share easy-to-understand nutrition information that will help you make better choices for your family's health.

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