Sioux Falls Regional Extension Center News

What’s the Proper Portion Size for Your Child?

By Megan Sexton

It can be very confusing for parents to know the right amount of food to serve their children.  The cultural environment in our society can make it very confusing for parents, and children, to monitor food intake.  There is constant input from advertisements, current trends, family and friend behaviors, and a parent’s own perceptions of food intake.  But a child’s health and future are greatly impacted by their food intake, so it is vital that parents put good food habits into practice.  One of these habits is proper portion sizes.

An easy rule of thumb to follow with children is 1 tbsp. of a food for every year of their age.  An example of this would to serve a 3 year old 3 tbsp. diced chicken, 3 tbsp. mixed vegetables, and 3 tbsp. fresh raspberries.  Their plates should also model the MyPlate ( with smaller portions.  It is important to teach them that the majority of their meals should be fruits and vegetables, with a combination of lean protein and whole grains.

It is extremely important that parents teach children at a young age to pay attention to their own body’s signals of hunger and satiety.  Do not force a child to clean their plate or consume a food they really do not like.  This causes children to form negative emotions with food and eating, and it also inhibits their ability to recognize their body’s hunger signals.  Children will go through many food “jags” and the best course of action is to keep modeling good eating behavior and keep presenting the food.  You can try different preparation and serving methods to keep them interested.

Once a child reaches preteen (ages 10-13) they should consume a well-balanced, healthy diet the same as adults.  This period of time can be a very difficult one to gage the amount of food that should be consumed.  Adolescences go through many growth spurts and their activity levels can fluctuate drastically.  It is important to encourage them to consume proper serving sizes, to pay attention to their own hunger queues, and to reach for healthy options for seconds, such as more vegetables or fruits.

For more information, contact SDSU Megan Sexton at at the Sioux Falls Regional Extension Center, 605-782-3290,

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