Understanding Serving Sizes

You may be surprised to see how small one serving is for a child. For example, ½ cup cooked pasta may not look like a lot, or look like what you have been serving your child in the past, but it is considered a serving for children over 4 years old by the US Department of Agriculture. Having a better understanding of serving sizes can help prevent over-feeding and pediatric obesity as your child gets older. You have the opportunity to teach your children good food habits now that will serve them well the rest of their lives.

How large is a serving for my child (4 years +)? What does a serving look like? How can I make sure my child is being offered the right amount of food?

As your child begins to eat what the rest of your family is eating, it becomes important to understand serving sizes for each of the food groups. Here is an easy way to make sure you are offering an appropriate serving. Refer to the chart below to help you chose the proper serving size.

Recommended Serving Sizes based on the Food Pyramid, created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2005:

Milk Group

1 cup of milk or yogurt

2 ounces of processed American cheese – about the size of a 9 volt battery

1 1/2 ounces of natural Cheddar cheese

Meat Group

2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish – about the size of a deck of cards

Other sources of protein:
1 ounce = 1/2 cup cooked dry beans
1/4 cup of tofu
1 egg
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/3 cup nuts

Fruit Group

About the size of 2 golf balls 1 medium piece of fruit or melon wedge

1/2 cup fruit

3/4 cup (6 oz) 100% fruit juice

1/4 cup dried fruit

Vegetable Group

About the size of 2 golf balls

1/2 cup chopped, raw or cooked veggies

1- cup raw leafy vegetables

3/4 cup (6 oz.) vegetable juice

Grain Group

Not a bowlful – instead about 1/2 of a tennis ball

1 slice of bread
1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta

1/2 cup cooked cereal

What about my toddler? Toddlers (2-3 year olds) should be offered a smaller serving, about 2/3 of the serving size listed above. Here are some great ways to remember the perfect toddler portions!

One serving of meat = 4 marbles

One serving of chopped fruits/vegetables = 3 dominos

One serving cooked pasta/rice = a ping pong ball

One serving of cheese = 2 dice

One serving of juice = 1/2 of a small juice glass

The Food Pyramid is available at www.mypyramid.gov. There is a meal tracking worksheet that can be helpful to review. When using the worksheet, look at your child’s diet over the course of an entire week rather than one day.