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Toddler Portion Sizes: The Surprising Reason Your Kid’s Being Picky

In this video, learn the appropriate portion sizes for toddlers and why they may refuse to eat adult-size portions.

Lauren SmithMera Goodman, MD
Written by Lauren Smith | Reviewed by Mera Goodman, MD
Updated on March 20, 2021

When your kid reaches the toddler stage, you might feel a little relieved to see him become a little more independent: holding his own fork, picking up his own toys, and so on. But with that independence also comes pushback, and your tiny tot may suddenly decide he doesn’t want to eat that lasagna you slaved over or the cucumber bites he used to devour. Even worse, you might find yourself with a toddler tantrum on your hands when mealtimes start to become contentious.

But hang on: Your kid might not be as picky an eater as you fear, at least in the traditional sense of the word. Your toddler may actually love your great-grandma’s lasagna recipe, but he may simply be turned off by the heaping pile you put on his plate.

“We think in terms of adult portions,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutritionist and cookbook author in New York City. “[When] you put grown-up portions on a kid’s plate, it can be very overwhelming, and they might get kind of grossed out.”

It’s reasonable to be wary. Toddlers are an active bunch (as you know) and their early nutrition can play a big role in their lifelong development. “Parents are afraid [their kids] aren’t going to be strong [or] grow tall if they don’t eat enough,” says Dyan Hes, MD, a pediatrician and double board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine. “For the most part, if you eat from a toddler plate, you’ll be fine.”

While your toddler may seem like it needs a ton of fuel for all that running and jumping, toddler’s portions should be about a quarter of the size of an adult’s, according to Largeman-Roth. Whatever would be the recommended serving size for an adult, give just a fourth of that to your tot.

For example, a cup of cooked penne and a cup of roasted broccoli might be just right for you, but way too much for your kiddo. Divide it by four: ¼ cup pasta and ¼ cup veggies would be a better fit (literally and figuratively) for that toddler plate. It might not look like much, but remember that your toddler only needs about 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Bonus: You know that awful feeling of throwing away your toddler’s half-eaten bread (that was dunked in applesauce and then smashed and ripped into three pieces)? Giving your toddler the appropriate portion size can reduce some of that food waste, which saves you time and money.

Using a toddler plate and your child is still refusing your food? Here are proven tricks to get picky toddlers to eat.

Additional Medical Contributors (2)
  • Frances Largeman-Roth, RDNFrances Largeman-Roth is a nutritionist and cookbook author in New York City.
    • Dyan Hes, MDDr. Hes is a pediatrician and medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City. She is double board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine.


      What and how much should my preschooler be eating? Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (Accessed on March 20, 2021 at https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/what-and-how-much-should-my-preschooler-be-eating.)

      GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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