Portion Sizes for Young Children


When it comes to feeding your young child, you’re bound to have many questions such as, “how much food should I give my child?”, “what should portion sizes for young children look like?”, or “what types of food should my child be eating?”.

Given that 9-10% of children in England are obese by age 4-5 years (House of Commons Library: Obesity Statistics (2018), the discussion of what and how much food children should be eating is crucially important.

“How much food should I give my child?”

It depends! Children burn calories at different rates depending on their age and how active they are. Calorie guides should be taken with a pinch of salt (no pun intended), and you should always consider your child’s eating habits and their level of physical activity.

According to many food guides, babies who are starting to eat solid foods need between 750-900 calories per day. 400-500 calories of their daily intake should come from milk.

As children grow and become more physically active, their calorie intake will need to increase. Children in their toddler years (2-3 years) generally need between 1,000-1,400 calories per day. When children reach pre-school age (3-4 years) they would typically need between 1,200-1,400 calories per day.

“What portion size should my child have?”

You may have come across the tip of measuring a child’s portion by measuring the size of a fist or palm. We actually use this method to serve children their meals at our nurseries.

Many parents make the common error; however, of using their own fists to measure out a portion, rather than their child’s fist. While this may appear like a small serving to you, don’t forget that young children have small stomachs and will become full much quicker than adults.

By following this method you will easily be able to measure out your child’s portion sizes, and you’ll also cut down on wasted food.

“What types of food should I be giving to my child?”

Children over 2 years of age need a varied and healthy diet as this will support their physical growth and development. According to the Eatwell Guide, children should have a variety of foods from each of the main 5 food groups every day. The main 5 food groups include:

eatwell guide 5 basic food groups portion sizes

Source: Public Health England in association with the Welsh Government, Food Standards Scotland and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
  • Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
  • Dairy and alternatives
  • Oils and spreads

Babies and children under 2 years of age have different nutritional needs, and most of their nutrition will come from milk. However, we would recommend that from around the age of 4-6 months to introduce small fruits and vegetables and gradually build up to a varied diet based on the Eatwell Guide.

“Should I let my child snack?”

As children have small stomachs, they will struggle to eat a large meal in one sitting. This does mean that sometimes they become hungry between meals. Children generally need to eat smaller amounts of food regularly so that they can maintain their energy levels throughout the day.

Whilst we provide children with 2 snacks (morning and afternoon) at nursery, these are always healthy snacks consisting of fruit or vegetable sticks. You may choose to offer snacks for your child between meals when at home; however, it’s a good idea to ensure that these are healthy snacks, rather than providing them with snacks such as crisps, chocolates or sweets.

If you need some menu ideas for your child, or some more guidance on children’s portion sizes, feel free to take a look at the menus we follow at our nurseries below:

Food Menu
Ingredients & Portions

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