Child-Sized Portions


Goldilocks might say there’s a size that’s “just-right” for everything. When it comes to food servings, she’s right! Your children’s health is linked with determining the proper portion size for their age.

The childhood obesity epidemic is no secret. If current trends continue, kids may develop high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol in their 30s, instead of their 50s.

“We all want our kids to grow up healthy, but we’re feeding them to death,” said Montgomery Elmer, MD, of ThedaCare Physicians-Kimberly. “We need to equip and educate parents.”

A proper plate

It comes back to portion control. Remember old airplane food? Those were actually the correct portion sizes. “Our perception of ‘normal’ is already 25 percent more than where we should be,” said Dr. Elmer. “Today’s dinner plates should be the size of salad plates.”

The serving sizes listed on food packaging provide insight into the portions your children are eating. A serving is the amount of food typically eaten in one sitting, and the right size changes based on a child’s age.

Servings by age

During the first three years, a child doesn’t need more than a ¼ cup at each serving, with the exception of ½-cup servings of milk.

As a rule-of-thumb, 5 to 12 year olds need approximately half the calories of an adult diet, or about 1,000 calories a day. While adults can enjoy 2-3 oz. of meat per serving, the proper serving for kids is only 1 oz.

Food Group

Servings per Day

1-3 Years

4-5 Years

6-12 Years

12+ years & Adults

Breads, Cereals, Pastas & Grains

5 or less

½ slice or ¼ cup

½ slice or 1/3 cup

1 slice or ½ cup

1 slice or ½ cup



¼ cup

1/3 cup

½ cup

½ cup



¼ cup

1/3 cup

½ cup

½ cup

Milk & Dairy


½ cup

¾ cup

1 cup

1 cup

Meat & Protein


1 oz. or ¼ cup

1 ½ oz. or 1/3 cup

2 oz. or ½ cup

2-3 oz. or ½ cup







Portions = Health

Eating too many servings or overly-large servings leads to health and weight issues. Once children reach 5 years or older, it becomes difficult to change poor eating habits. Parents can help by modeling nutrition and monitoring a child’s food intake.

  • Set aside Sunday night to prepare fruit and veggie snacks for the week, or use a slow cooker to make healthy food without a big time commitment.
  • If your child has a cupcake or candy bar (about 250 calories), take a half-hour walk or exercise as a family to help burn it off.
  • At restaurants, ask waiters to box up half your food before it arrives.
  • Visit for helpful suggestions.
  • Another option: If it’s challenging for your children to lose weight, help them simply maintain their current weight as they grow into their bodies.