Healthy Portion Sizes and Calories for Preschoolers

We all wonder if our children are getting enough or too much to eat, depending on the day. Some days they refuse to eat even their usual favorites and other days they just can’t seem to get full.  Let’s talk about the recommendations for what an average preschooler (ages 2 to 5) should be eating.​​

Fruits and Vegetables

First up, let’s talk about fruits and vegetables. While all food groups are important, often fruits and vegetables seem the hardest for parents to get their kids to eat.

But the more often foods are offered, the more acceptable they become and pretty soon kids will eat and enjoy them.  But how much should your child be eating on average each day? Here are the servings and portion sizes recommended by myplate.gov:

Fruits*:

  • 2 year olds: 1 cup
  • 3 year olds: 1 to 1 1/2 cups
  • 4 and 5 year olds: 1 to 1 1/2 cups

*What counts as 1/2 cup of fruit? 1/2 cup mashed, sliced or chopped fruit, 1/2 cup 100% fruit juice, 1/2 medium banana, 4-5 large strawberries

Vegetables*:

  • 2 year olds: 1 cup
  • 3 year olds: 1 to 1 1/2 cups
  • 4 and 5 year olds: 1 to 1 1/2 cups

*What counts as 1/2 cup of vegetables? 1/2 cup mashed, sliced or chopped vegetables, 1 cup leafy greens, 1/2 cup vegetable juice, 1 small ear of corn

Grains

Now what about grains? The goal is to choose whole grains at least half of the time. Whole grains have more nutrients and fiber than processed grains. Here are the recommended servings and portion sizes:

Grains*:

  • 2 year olds: 3 ounces
  • 3 year olds: 4-5 ounces
  • 4 and 5 year olds: 4-5 ounces

*What counts as 1 ounce of grains? 1 slice of bread, 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal flakes, 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta, 1 tortilla (6” across)

Protein Foods

Let’s talk protein. Protein helps build healthy bodies, strong muscles, and helps kiddos feeling fuller longer.

Protein also provides essential nutrients like iron. But how much should your child be eating on average each day?  Here are the recommendations:

Protein Foods*:

  • 2 year olds: 2 ounces
  • 3 year olds: 3-4 ounces
  • 4 and 5 year olds: 3-5 ounces

*What counts as 1 ounce of protein foods? 1 ounce cooked meat, poultry, or seafood; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1/4 cup cooked beans of peas (kidney, pinto, lentils)

Dairy

And last but not least, dairy. After the age of 2, it is recommended that we transition our kids to low-fat or fat-free diary choices. Their brain development is slowed after 2, and so their needs for fat have decreased. Low-fat or fat-free dairy still provide the calcium and vitamin D need to build strong bones, with without the excess calories from fat. Here are the recommendations for dairy:

Dairy*:

  • 2 year olds: 2 cups
  • 3 year olds: 2 cups
  • 4 and 5 year olds: 2 1/2 cups

*What counts as 1/2 cup of dairy? 1/2 cup milk, 4 ounces yogurt, 3/4 ounce cheese, 1 string cheese

Kids don’t always go by the book and certainly don’t look at recommendations when they are deciding what to eat.

Our job as parents is to provide a variety of healthy options and let the kids decide what they will eat. When we continue to offer healthy choices, they will learn to enjoy them. Don’t stress about meeting the exact recommendations for each day. Kids often eat more some days and less others, the overall average is what’s important. Focus on offering a variety of healthy foods and your kids will do the rest!

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