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How Much Food Should My Child Eat?

By Christine Dagnelli ; Updated June 13, 2017

Parents concerned over obesity rates may want to know how much food their child should eat. The USDA has set standards for how many calories a growing child should consume, which varies some just as it does for adults based on age and activity level. Portion control and serving sizes are important when examining your child’s nutritional needs and making sure they are eating the right amount of food.


The food pyramid suggests children should consume six servings of grains, 5 oz. of protein, five servings of fruit and vegetables and two servings of dairy—this can also be nondairy milk such as soy milk. The USDA recommends a balanced diet that is low in fat, sugar and additives and is balanced with exercise and activity. The larger the variety of foods the more likely all of your child's nutritional needs will be met. Pediatricians’ recommend feeding your kids three meals and two snacks a day for good health.


A 4-oz. serving of meat or fish is typically the size of a deck of cards; other sources count towards the total amount of ounces. One egg, 1 tbsp. of peanut butter or ½ cup of nuts all equal 1 oz. of protein. A serving of grains is equal to one slice of bread, ½ cup of rice or pasta, ½ cup of cooked cereal or 1 oz. of ready-to-eat cereal. A serving of dairy equals one, 8 oz. glass, 1 cup of yogurt or 1 oz. of cheese. Fruit and vegetable servings equal ½ cup of chopped or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of leafy green vegetables, a piece of fruit, one melon wedge, ¾ cup of juice or ¼ cup of dried fruit.


Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a calculation of weight to height. Children should fall between the 15th and 85th percentile; this is not a measurement of fat. By plotting your child’s BMI percentile you can determine if she is growing too fast and make adjustments to the amount of food she is eating.

Eating a balanced diet at a young age builds a foundation for healthy eating skills for life. Having a balanced diet reduces risk for developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, weak bones and obesity.

Expert Insight

Baylor College of Medicine’s energy calculator determines a child’s energy needs by calculating his height, weight, age and activity level to yield the amount of calories needed in a day. A 5-year-old boy that is moderately active and weighs 38 lbs. and is 40 inches tall needs approximately 1,500 calories a day.


No more than 30 percent of the diet should be derived from fats, oils or sweets—this includes processed foods. Children under 3 should not be fed low-fat or fat-free milk, and you should avoid foods that are potential choking hazards such as nuts, grapes, uncooked carrots, tough meats and hard candies.

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