“How much food does my toddler actually need?” If you have ever had that thought, you are not alone. As a first time mom, I struggled with exactly how much my child needed to eat. I had no clue what the correct portion size for my little one was. I would end up making a little less then what I was eating and just assume that was correct. Turns out I was eating too much, along with my daughter! Being conscious of the correct portion size is super important when it comes to new eaters. Some new eaters will eat EVERYTHING in front of them, even if they are full. This raises the number of calories a day the little one is consuming and if it gets out of hand, this could lead to health issues for the child. This is just a simple way for parents to keep track and manage healthy weight gain in children.
As children get older, their request for more food becomes an all day thing. It’s important for kids to learn the difference between physical hunger and boredom eating. Also, learning the cues of when they become full; will lessen the chances of overeating.
I’ve broken down each food group to demonstrate what the correct portion size looks like within each group. Also, I’ve mentioned how much of each group needs to be consumed on a daily basis. Physical activity, age, gender make a big difference in the number of calories your little one consumes daily. A less active and younger child will be on the smaller end of the daily requirements, whereas an older more physically active child will need more calories daily. For children ages 2-8 years old, the number of calories needed will range between 1,000- 1,400.
- Daily recommended amount of fruit: 1 to 1 ½ cups
- A serving of 1 cup of fruit is equal to:
- ½ cup dried fruit
- ½ large apple
- 1 large banana
- 32 grapes
- 10-12 berries
- 2 large plums
- Daily recommended amount of vegetables: 1 to 1 ½ cups
- A serving of 1 cup of vegetables is equal to:
- 1 cup chopped broccoli
- 1 cup cooked kale
- 1 cup cooked or 2 cups raw spinach
- 2 medium carrots or 12 baby carrots
- 1 large tomato
- 1 large or 1 cup mashed, cooked, sliced sweet potato
- 1 large ear of corn
- 1 cup green peas
- 1 medium white potato
- 2 large celery stalks
- 1 cup raw, sliced, chopped cucumber
- Daily recommended amount of grains: 3-5 ounces
- A serving of 1 oz. of grains is equal to:
- 1 mini bagel
- 1 small biscuit
- 1 regular slice of bread
- 5 whole wheat crackers
- 7 square or round crackers
- ½ English muffin
- ½ cup oatmeal
- 3 cups of popcorn
- 1 cup ready-to-eat breakfast cereal
- ½ cup of cooked rice/pasta
- Daily recommended amount of protein: 2-3 years old- 2 oz., 4-8 years old-4 oz.
- A serving of 1 oz. of protein is equal to:
- Meat: 1 oz. cooked lean beef or pork
- Ex: 1 small lean hamburger= 2-3 oz.
- Poultry: 1 oz. cooked chicken or turkey, 1 sandwich slice of turkey
- Ex: 1 small chicken breast half= 3oz.
- Seafood: 1 oz. cooked fish or shellfish
- Ex: 1 can tuna= 3-4 oz.
- 1 small trout= 3oz.
- 1 egg
- ½ ounce of nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios)
- ½ ounce of seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)
- 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
- Beans & Peas:
- ¼ cup cooked beans (black, kidney, pinto)
- ¼ cup cooked peas (chickpea, split pea, lentils)
- ¼ cup cooked baked beans, refried beans
- tablespoons of hummus
- Meat: 1 oz. cooked lean beef or pork
- A daily recommended amount of dairy: 2-3 years old- 2 cups, 4-8 years old- 2 ½ cups
- A serving of 1 cup of dairy is equal to:
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 regular container (8 oz.) yogurt
- 1/3 cup of shredded cheese
- 1 ½ oz. hard cheese
- 2 cups cottage cheese
When it comes to fruit:
- Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried are all great options.
- Limit fruit juice
- Raisins or other unsweetened dried fruit are better than chewy fruit snacks, which contain very little fruit
When it comes to vegetables:
- EAT THE RAINBOW
- Fresh, frozen, canned are great options (check for no salt added)
When it comes to grains:
- Make at least half of grains whole grains
- Vary choices: oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, etc.
When it comes to protein:
- Limit highly processed poultry, fish, meat
- Ex: hotdogs, fish sticks, chicken nuggets
When it comes to dairy:
- After 2 years of age, switch from whole milk to fat-free or low-fat milk (less added sugar and few calories than flavored, whole, or reduced fat milk)
- Try blending dairy into smoothies for fun snacks
- Ex: yogurt, banana, and cocoa powder make a great smoothie (for added benefits add spinach or kale)
Last tip, if your little one is constantly asking for more food, and they just ate, they may be thirsty. Children often confuse hunger for thirst, so offer water, wait about 20 minutes and then see how they are doing! Making sure you manage your child’s weight gain will help them thrive and set them up for a life of good food decisions.