Portion sizes for preschoolers

Is your preschooler getting enough or too much to eat?

Anyone raising a preschooler will notice their unpredictable eating patterns and habits. One day it can be a struggle to get them to eat much of anything, and the next it may seem like they are eating everything in sight. As children continue to grow and begin to exert their sense of independence, feeding them can be challenging. One point to remember is that children have small stomachs, so it is important to have meals and snacks scheduled and to follow the schedule so a familiar routine develops. When the child is familiar with the routine, they will know when meals and snacks are coming, which can help encourage healthy eating habits.

When you are planning meals and snacks the question is often posed, “what should my preschooler eat each day to be healthy?” MyPlate recommends the following for preschoolers from each of the food groups:

  • Fruits —1 1/2 cups
  • Vegetables — 1 1/2 cups
  • Dairy — 2 1/2 cups
  • Protein — 4 ounces
  • Grains — 5 ounces

As you plan meals and snacks incorporating items from MyPlate’s food groups, it is also important to take note of the portion sizes you are serving your preschooler.

  • One ounce of grain equals one slice of bread, 1/2 cup of rice or pasta or cooked cereal, one cup of ready to eat cereal, or 1/2 of a bun
  • One ounce of protein equals one egg, one ounce of chicken, beef or pork, one tablespoon of peanut butter, one slice of deli meat
  • One cup of fruits or vegetables equals 1/4 cup dried, 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit or vegetables
  • Once cup of dairy equals one cup of milk, yogurt

A sample snack idea with preschool size portions might be 1/2 cup apples with one tablespoon peanut butter and 1/2 cup of milk. For lunch, two ounces of hamburger, bun, 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 cup grapes and 1/2 cup green beans.

As you plan, prepare and serve meals for your preschoolers, Michigan State University Extension encourages you to remember that smaller stomachs need smaller portions. Filling a young child’s plate to mirror the same portions contained on an adult’s plate may result in children eating too much or parents becoming upset that the child doesn’t eat enough. Make meal and snack time enjoyable by serving portion sizes perfect for your preschooler.

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