Feeding: How Much is Enough?

Do you ever wonder how much food is appropriate to feed your child? While you might consider this fairly intuitive and straightforward, it’s a common question asked by parents, and it’s influenced by a couple of confusing factors. Serving sizes indicated on Nutrition Facts labels don’t necessarily apply to small children, and our perception of what’s considered an appropriate amount of food may be distorted — a distortion caused by LARGE portions of almost everything, everywhere. So, as a continuation of last month’s topic on, When, What and How Much to Feed your Baby, this month we graduate to childhood.

GENERAL GUIDELINES

If you regularly refer to the Serving Size listed on the Nutrition Facts label, consider that appropriate serving sizes for younger children may be half the serving size indicated on the label. Also a good rule of thumb: One tablespoon of food for every year of age, with more offered according to appetite.

This chart (adapted from Lowenberg ME, Development of food patterns in young children, in Nutrition Infancy and Childhood 5th Edition) offers more guidance on portion sizes and number of servings per day for children up to age 8.

Again, these are general guidelines. If you;re interested in an individual Daily Food Plan for your child based on age, gender and physical activity level, see the Choose My Plate site.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

  • Energy needs, and therefore portion sizes, for children vary depending on age, gender, and activity level.
  • Young children can regulate their energy intake but rely on adults to offer them a healthy and well-balanced diet.
  • Serving children portions larger than those recommended for their age may contribute to overeating. In one study, children who were permitted to select their own portion size consumed 25% less of an entrée than when served a large portion.
  • The eating environment is a critical factor in the development of healthy eating behaviors. Structure and routine are particularly important.
  • Most young children should eat 4–6 times per day.

BOTTOM LINE

If you’re wondering what appropriate portions look like, don’t hesitate to dig out the measuring cups and spoons. It’s certainly not necessary all the time, but it can be helpful. Allow your child to serve him or herself small portions of food, and always offer an environment that is conducive to healthy and distraction-free eating.

Anne Marie Kuchera, our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultant, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.