Appropriate Foods and Serving Sizes for Children

Careful meal planning in the daycare or preschool environment is essential in order to meet the nutritional needs of young children. Healthy foods in age-appropriate and sensible serving sizes decrease children’s risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Nutrient Needs for Children in Childcare
According to the guidelines set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture, preschool-aged children require a set amount of servings per day from essential food groups:

  • 6 servings of grains. Half of the grains should be from whole grains: whole wheat bread, brown rice, etc.
  • 2 servings of fruit
  • 3 servings of vegetables
  • 3 servings of milk
  • 2 servings of lean meat, poultry, dried beans, fish, eggs or nuts.

Serving Sizes for Lunch or Dinner by Age
According to the USDA Child and Adult Food Program guidelines, the following serving sizes are recommended for children ages 1-5:

Ages 1-2
1 serving of milk

  • ½ cup fluid milk

2 servings of fruit or vegetables

  • ¼ cup of juice, fruit and/or vegetables

1 serving of meat or meat alternative

  • 1 ounce meat, poultry, fish , or meat alternative or
  • 1 ounce of cheese or
  • ½ egg or
  • ¼ cup beans or
  • ½ ounce  nuts

1 serving of grains:

  • ½ slice of bread or
  • ¼ cup cereal or
  • ¼ cup pasta or
  • ½ serving of biscuit, roll, or muffin

Ages 3-5
1 serving of milk

  • ¾  cup fluid milk

2 servings of fruit or vegetables

  • ½ cup of juice, fruit and/or vegetables

1 serving of meat or meat alternative

  • 1.5  ounces meat, poultry, fish, or meat alternative or
  • 1.5 ounces of cheese or
  • ¾ cup egg or
  • 3/8 cup beans or
  • 3/4 ounce  nuts

1 serving of grains:

  • ½ slice of bread or
  • 1/3  cup cereal or
  • ¼ cup pasta or
  • ½ serving of biscuit, roll, or muffin

Sample Serving Sizes for Two Year Olds
Sue Adair, Senior Manager of Quality Assurance at The Goddard School recommends the following examples of meals with appropriate serving sizes for two year olds:

Breakfast sample:

  • ½ cup of milk
  • ¼ cup juice, fruit or vegetable
  • ½ slice of bread or ¼ cup of cereal

Snack sample (select 2 of the 4 components)

  • ½ cup of milk
  • ½ ounce of meat or meat alternate (see below)
  • ½ cup of juice, fruit or vegetable
  • ½ slice of bread or ¼ cup of cereal

Lunch or Dinner sample:

  • 1 ounce meat or meat alternate (meat, poultry or fish, cooked)
  • 1 ounce cheese
  • 2 ounces or ¼ cup of cottage cheese or cheese spread
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup dry beans or peas
  • 2 Tbsp. of peanut butter or other nut/seed butters
  • 4 ounces or ½ cup of yogurt
  • ¼ cup of vegetable and/or fruit
  • ½ slice of bread

Don’t panic if a child does not follow these guidelines every day to the letter. “Realize that toddlers will have appetite cycles where one day they eat very little and other days, they eat everything in sight. For children who are growing normally based on their height/weight growth charts from your pediatrician’s office, then there is no need to worry about the cyclical eating behavior,” says Dr. Karen P. Zimmer, expert pediatrician for First Juice.

Eating habits are learned behaviors. Offer a variety of healthy foods in child size portions and as well model healthy eating behaviors in order to help children learn to enjoy healthy foods from the start.

About the Author

Carla Snuggs is a freelance writer from Southern California. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Family and Consumer Science with an emphasis in child development and also holds a Master of Library and Information Science degree.

Children's Food Resources

Be Sociable, Share!

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment