Boy Playing

Feeding Infants and Toddlers - Portion Sizes/Picky Eaters

Toddlers may appear to subsist on Cheerios and air at times. In reality they need about a quarter of a measured adult portion of any given item, and may have days when they eat very little, and days when they eat quite a bit.
A balanced diet should be “balanced” over the course of a week or more. It is OK for a child to have love affairs with particular foods, as long as they are healthful. Macaroni and cheese for lunch every day for a month may seem boring to adults, but heaven to a toddler. Try to make such foods healthier by using low fat cheeses and whole wheat pasta- making one substitution at a time to reduce resistance to change (this is called food chaining.)

Toddlers/children should be offered 3 meals and 2 snacks a day. Have your children get used to eating what the adults enjoy from an early age, with the exception of very strongly spiced or salted foods that may be too much for a young palate (with a more sensitive sense of taste than adults.) If your child does not like what is being served, you can consider offering a simple, healthy option such as fruit and yogurt. Don’t be a short order cook- no child has starved to death in front of a plate of food they don’t like. If a child is not hungry at a given meal, do not force them to eat. Let them learn to listen to their body’s feelings of hunger and fullness, and remind them that food won’t be served until the next scheduled meal or snack.

Think of snacks as mini-meals, and include the same proteins, whole grains and fruits/veggies you would at a meal. Small amounts of protein will help keep blood sugar levels even and hunger at bay until the next meal. Hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, and peanut butter with whole-grain crackers are good examples.

Children often need repeated exposures to new foods for them to accept them. Try a “one-bite” rule for new foods. Reward systems work well for particularly recalcitrant eaters. Award one sticker for trying a new food, and two for finishing a full portion. Allow the child to pick a favorite dinner after accumulating a certain number of stickers.

Involve your child in food shopping and preparation. Children are much more likely to try a food that they have planted/grown, or picked at the market, or cooked with you.

Don’t encourage mindless eating. Food should be consumed sitting down, preferably at a table with others. Manners and good eating habits are learned from adults demonstrating them. Toddlers love eating just about anything off of a parent’s plate! Discourage continual daytime snacking or drinking- only fresh water should be available on demand.

Normal Portion Sizes/ dietary requirements:
Child sized servings are typically ¼ to 1/3 of an adult serving, or one tablespoon of each food for each year of the child’s age. Typical adult serving sizes are:
1 slice of bread
½ cup rice or pasta (cooked)
1 small piece of fruit (super-large apples are 2+ servings)
1 wedge of melon
¾ cup fruit juice
1 cup milk or yogurt
2 oz. cheese (about the size of a domino)
2-3 oz. meat, poultry or fish (this is about the size of a deck of cards)

For more details on healthy diets and helpful resources, ask for our Healthy Eating Handout, also available on our website.