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What size portions of food should I offer my child?

Jan 07, 2020

What is a good serving size for my child? I often get questions about what a plate should look like, in terms of portion sizes for kids.

But the answer is not as simple as it seems!

I'm not going to discuss how much food from each food group your child 'should' be eating per day. If you want that, you can find it here. But a word of caution: this is how much food to offer. Your child might actually eat way more or way less. And that's ok.

If you're struggling because you don't think your child eats enough, check out this blog.

For the rest of you, here are a few tips to help guide you on how much food you can offer to your child. And a suggestion on a different way to serve it!

1) Start small

Offering a large plate with many different foods can easily overwhelm your child into paralysis. And they may just refuse it all.

It's also a waste of food when your kid takes just one or two bites and declares they're full!

Another risk of offering larger portions is that you may feel like your child should clean their plates. And you get stuck pressuring them to finish their food. Which only backfires and causes fights.

This most often happens at dinnertime. Which is the 'worst' meal of the day for most kids for a few reasons:

  • They're tired by the end of the day.
  • Your child is excited to be home after daycare or school. Or because mom or dad is home from work!
  • Your child is not hungry, because they're full of snacks.
  • Or maybe they're not hungry because they have eaten enough during breakfast and lunch for their little body!

Appetite goes up and down in young kids. Some days they seem to subsist on thin air and other days they can out-eat an adult.

Your child is the only one that knows whether they are hungry. And it's a good thing to listen to their appetites. Let them!

2) Serve family-style meals

Family-style meals are when all of the foods offered for a meal are placed in the centre of the table. Everyone gets to choose what to put on their own plate, and how much.

This is in contrast to serving your child’s food already plated. Which almost immediately starts the: "yuck, I don't like that’s".

By allowing your child to choose what to put on their plate, it results in less complaining. And again, they like having some choice and feeling some ownership in their decision.

Family-style can work for all meals. But it’s easy to start this with something like make your own pizza night, or tacos and everyone chooses their toppings. Give it a try this week!

3) 'How much' is ultimately up to the child

Parents have certain roles in feeding (the what/when/where) and kids have roles in eating. If we can follow our roles and trust our children to follow theirs, they will be less likely to be picky eaters and will grow up to have a healthy relationship with food.

The children's role in this Division of Responsibility is simply if they eat and how much. WITHOUT any kind of pressure from us.

Allow your child (no matter their age) to take the lead role in eating. And remember that a child's appetite can vary greatly from day to day. 

This is the hardest thing for many parents to ‘let go’ of. I assure you, it’s not your job to simply get your child to eat their broccoli.

It’s your job to help them grow up with a healthy relationship with food.

Especially with babies, toddlers & preschoolers, it’s very common for them to choose to eat nothing at all.

Trust that your child is doing what his/her body is requesting. While kids do an excellent job of listening to their appetites, adults do not – and we want them to keep this skill as long as possible!

I know this all sounds simple and easy. But it's much harder to implement, as it often requires a total mind (and habit) shift.

If you want more support with implementing the Division of Responsibility and some other strategies to get your child the nutrition they need, check out my group coaching program called End Picky Eating. 

 Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian, author & mom of 3. From Baby-led weaning to picky eating and meal planning, she helps you to make feeding your family easier

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