Toddler Portion Sizes: What You Need to Know, and What You Don’t Need to Worry About

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Before we dive deep, I’m going to address mindset about toddler portion sizes. What I’m about to say may be a bit shocking: you do not need to worry about portion sizes!

However, it is a good starting point to know toddler portion sizes for main foods. Then, keep that information in mind when you notice your child’s eating patterns over time.

You read that right: over time. Not how they eat at one meal, or for one day. Over time meaning throughout the week and month so that you can see what foods they focus on most.

I’ll teach you what is important to know, and what not to stress about when feeding your kids so that you do not feel the need to pressure them to eat certain foods or certain amounts of foods – this will surely backfire!

What Are the Recommended Toddler Portion Sizes?

First, let me address the fact that portion sizes are a guide. Think about portion sizes as a reference point rather than a rule. Portion sizes vary for toddlers and kids depending on their age.

Use this section as a reference for toddler portion sizes for certain food groups.

Protein

  • 1 serving = 1 ounce
  • Examples: 1 inch piece of solid meat or 2 tablespoons of ground meat, half of an egg, 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 2 servings per day

Dairy

  • 1 serving = ½ cup milk, ½ ounce of cheese (1 cube), 1/3 cup yogurt
  • 2-3 servings per day

Grains

  • 1 serving = ½ slice of bread, ¼ cup pasta, ¼ cup rice, ¼ cup cereal, 1-2 crackers (depending on size and brand)
  • 6 servings per day

Fruit

  • 1 serving = ¼ cup fresh, cooked, or canned fruit, ½ piece of whole fruit, ¼ – ½ cup juice (no sugar added)
  • 2-3 servings per day

Veggies

  • 1 serving = ½ cup fresh, cooked, or canned vegetables
  • 2-3 servings per day

Water

  • 1 serving = 8 ounces or 1 cup
  • 2-4 servings per day for toddlers
  • 5 servings per day for kids 4-8 years old

What Do These Toddler Portion Sizes Look Like?

A visual guide for portion sizes using the hand

1 ounce = your thumb

½ cup = the front of your closed fist

1 cup = your closed fist

These are just rules of thumb (see what I did there?!) for the sake of visualizing and estimating portion sizes.

Food Items to Limit

Kids eating the typical American (Western) diet tend to eat foods that are high in fat, sugar, and sodium. Keep these recommendations in mind when choosing foods that you kids eat often.

Fat

  • The American Heart Association recommends limiting fat intake to about 30% of total caloric intake for kids. Most fats should come from food sources like fish, nuts, and oils.

Sugar

  • The American Heart Association recommends limiting added to less than 6 grams per day for children. You can read more about sugar intake in kids in my article about sugar.

Sodium (Salt)

  • The recommendation for salt consumption is:
    • Less than 1,500mg for kids ages 1-3 years old
    • Less than 1,900mg for kids ages 4-8 years old

What to do When Toddlers Eat a Lot of Something

Have you ever watched a 2-year-old eat an entire pint of blueberries? Only to turn around and not want a single blueberry the next day?! Has your child eaten multiple servings of the pasta you’re having with dinner, but not touched anything else on their plate?

This is all normal. Sometimes kids have a big appetite, and sometimes their appetite is quite small. They may have done a lot of physical activity or are in a growth spurt. Let them eat all they want and explore foods. At this age, toddlers and kids are not capable of overeating to the extent that it is detrimental to their health.

It is equally important to remember that just because a toddler is eating a large amount of something, it does not necessarily mean that they are over-eating. Step back, let go of control, and allow your child to eat what they choose from the meal you have prepared.

For more on the topic of your role as providing the meal and the kids role to eat, please read my article on The Division of Responsibility.

What to do When Toddlers Barely Eat Anything

On the flip side, have you ever sat down to a meal and your toddler eats one bit and then proceeds to play with their food and doesn’t eat anything else? Or maybe they become wiggly and want up from the table, not wanting anything to do with eating.

This is all normal, too. Sometimes kids don’t feel like eating. There could be a few things going on like sickness, a big change in their day, social or physical distraction at the table, or constipation.

For more information about feeding kids who are sick, check out my article Food for Sick Toddlers.

Of course, if your child is refusing to eat anything, make sure they are still drinking liquids and going to the bathroom so that they are hydrated. If this lasts longer than a day and they are NOT sick, check in with your pediatrician.

What About Dessert?

While I mentioned above that it is important limit added sugar, there is a place for dessert in a well-balanced diet. Save sweet indulgences for after the age of 2 years old and enjoy treats with your child. I go into detail about sweets and treats in my article about sugar.

How to Talk About Food with Kids in a Positive Way

Most importantly, when considering toddler portion sizes, it is crucial that we as parents are recognizing our own inner dialogue and how that reflects our feelings and actions around food. Our kids are watching, and we need to set a good example around healthy eating. If you want your child to have a good relationship with food, it starts with you!

Make sure to talk about food in a positive way. Foods have many benefits for our body. They give us energy to run, jump, and play. They help our bodies grow and keep us healthy.

Also, food is fun to eat! Food is delicious and should enjoyed. Mealtimes are great ways to bond and grow as a family.

There is so much more to eating than just putting food in our mouth, chewing, and swallowing. Food and mealtimes are a part of our family traditions and culture.

Mindset About Toddler Portion Sizes

The next time you ask yourself if your child is eating too much or too little of something, remind yourself of the Division of Responsibility. Your job at mealtimes is to prepare and provide the meal for your child. Then, remind yourself of their job: whether to eat, and how much. Take a deep breath, and let go of control.

Think of mealtimes as a time to enjoy family conversation and talk about everyone’s day, be silly with your kids, and show them that meals are fun.

Ultimately, let’s change our mindset about toddler portion sizes. Keep the information in the background to make sure you are providing appropriate amounts for your children. Then, let the mealtime happen and spend time with your kids!

If you’re looking for more help with feeding your kids, please contact me, and I’d love to see how I can help your family.

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