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Healthy Weight Center

Portion Control Is a Must for Toddlers

Oriental female toddler, side ponytails, hands on cheeks, smiling, yellow shirtKeeping your toddler at a healthy weight can be challenging. Try these tips to keep your toddler’s weight within a normal range. 

Portion Control Tips

Not sure how much to offer your child? Try this for a general rule for portion sizes for toddlers: one tablespoon per year of age. For example, give two tablespoons to your 2-year-old and offer three tablespoons to your 3-year-old of the following food groups per meal:

Your toddler can have one-quarter to one-half of an adult portion. BUT, that is for the standard adult portion, not the extra-large servings Americans usually eat. For example, an adult serving of meat or poultry is the size of a deck of cards and a serving of pasta or rice is a half-cup. That is very important to remember when you put food on your toddlers’ plates.

For toddlers, it is critical to limit snacks, sweetened beverages and desserts. These foods replace healthy foods that your toddler should be eating.


Serving Size - It Can Make All the Difference

Focus on the size of the main dish you offer your child.  According to a recent study at Penn State University, children ages 3 to 6 had a lunch consisting of:

As expected, when children got a smaller amount of macaroni and cheese, they ate more of the fruit, vegetable and whole grain on their plate. In fact, the children ate 90 percent more of the lower-calorie foods when given the smallest amount of macaroni and cheese.

And do not worry--none of the kids left hungry! Even children with the smallest portion of macaroni and cheese still left about 5 percent on their plate. They also left most of the green beans, about half of the apple sauce and almost half of the roll. 


Eating Healthy is Key

Lastly, always remember that young children need healthy foods just like older kids and adults! But they just need smaller portions. For more healthy eating tips for toddlers and preschoolers, see the Choose My Plate website at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers.html.


Savage, JS.; Fisher, JO.; Marini, M.; Birch, LL. “Serving smaller age-appropriate entree portions to children aged 3-5 y increases fruit and vegetable intake and reduces energy density and energy intake at lunch.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, v. 95 issue 2, 2012, p. 335-41.   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22205315


Points to Remember

  • A general rule for portion sizes for toddlers is one tablespoon per year of age.
  • Control the portion size of the main dish you offer your toddler.
  • Limit snacks, sweetened beverages, and desserts.






Hope through Research - You Can Be Part of the Answer!

Many research studies are underway to help us learn about childhood nutrition. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:


This article originally appeared 1/20/2012 in Chow Line, a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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Last Reviewed: May 24, 2012

Daniel T. Remley, MSPH, PhD Daniel T. Remley, MSPH, PhD
Assistant Professor
Field Specialist, Food, Nutrition, & Wellness
OSU Extension
College of Food, Agricultural, & Environmental Science
The Ohio State University