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How to Estimate Portion Sizes for Kids

Food Portion
Estimating portion sizes for kids is a matter of balance.

Portion sizes should be big enough to give kids the nutrients they need to grow and develop, but not so large that they eat too many calories. These guidelines can help your kids get portion sizes that are just right.


  • Serve smaller portion sizes to smaller kids. Toddlers and preschoolers need foods from all the food groups, but in smaller amounts because they need fewer calories. Start by serving them small portions at meals and snacks and let them ask for more. By four years of age, most children are ready for regular-size portions. Learn tips for toddler feeding.
  • Let children take charge. Offer a variety of nutritious foods at meals and snacks, but let kids decide what and how much to eat. This encourages them to listen to their own body cues and choose portion sizes that are “just right” for them. Don’t worry if their appetites vary from day to day or from one meal or snack to the next. That’s natural.
  • Don’t overfeed ‘tweens and teens. For older kids, it’s important that portion sizes aren’t too big, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Make it a family practice to order smaller-size burgers, fries and drinks when you dine out together or to split an entrée or dessert. Serve small portions of treats such as cookies, candy and soft drinks—a 100-calorie portion is reasonable.  Learn more tweens and teen nutrition tips.
  • Get a helping hand with portion sizes. A fun way to teach kids about portion sizes is to compare certain portions of foods and beverages to parts of your hand. For instance, a 3-ounce portion of cooked meat is about the size of your palm.