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Feeding children ages 1 to 3

How much food do children need?

Please use the following guidelines to help provide a healthy, well-balanced diet for your child. Listed are the number of servings and serving sizes for each food group.

Bread and grains

6 servings per day:

  • bread—1/4 to 1/2 slice
  • cooked cereal—1/4 to 1/2 cup
  • dry cereal—1/3 to 1/2 cup
  • pasta, rice—1/4 to 1/3 cup


2 to 3 servings per day:

  • canned—1/3 cup
  • fresh—1/2 small
  • juice—1/3 cup


2 to 3 servings per day:

  • cooked—2 or 3 tablespoons
  • canned—2 or 3 tablespoons
  • fresh—2 or 3 tablespoons

Milk products

4 to 5 servings per day:

  • milk/soymilk—1/2 cup
  • cheese—1/2 ounce
  • yogurt—1/2 cup

Meat and meat substitutes

2 to 3 servings per day:

  • eggs—1
  • fish, poultry, meat—1/2 to 1 ounce
  • legumes—2-4 tablespoons
  • peanut butter—1 tablespoon
  • soy foods—1/3 to 1/2 cup

What are some healthy food ideas for children?

Grains and starches provide carbohydrates, protein, and some fat. Choose whole grain items.

  • bread, bagels, rolls
  • crackers
  • cereals: cold or cooked
  • muffins
  • pancakes
  • pasta
  • rice
  • tortillas

Vegetables provide carbohydrates and are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Cook until soft. Offer a variety of colors.

  • green beans
  • broccoli, cauliflower
  • carrots
  • peas
  • peppers
  • potatoes
  • squash
  • sweet potatoes, yams

Fruits and fruit juices provide carbohydrates and are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Limit juice to 4 ounces per day.

  • apples, applesauce
  • cantaloupe, watermelon, other melons
  • kiwi fruit
  • oranges, grapefruit
  • peaches, pears
  • strawberries, other berries

Milk products provide protein, carbohydrates, and fat. They are excellent sources of calcium.

  • milk/soymilk (whole for children younger than 2)
  • cheese, cottage cheese
  • yogurt

Meats and meat substitutes provide protein, fat, and iron.

  • meats such as beef, chicken, fish
  • eggs
  • round beans and lentils
  • soyfoods such as tofu, veggie burgers

Helpful hints

Enjoy mealtime together. Eat meals with your child. Include your child in family communication. Avoid arguing or trying to solve family problems during mealtime.

Children like to copy you. If you purchase and eat healthy foods, your children will probably eat them too.

Slowly introduce different foods to your child. Variety prevents boredom and provides a well balanced diet.

Do not offer sweets to distract or reward your child. If child asks for treat, offer healthier items such as fresh fruit or graham crackers.

Children typically need 12 to 20 ounces of milk per day. Meals and snacks should make up most of the calorie and nutrient intake. Offer water between meals to quench thirst.

You might encourage a child to taste, but do not pressure your child into eating. Appetites vary depending on growth, mood, and preferences. Parents are responsible for providing nutritious meals on a consistent basis, not how much the child eats.

Young children learn eating skills slowly, and have trouble controlling round, firm foods in their mouth. These foods are choking hazards for children younger than 4 years:

  • raw carrots, other raw vegetables
  • cheese chunks
  • corn
  • whole cherries and grapes
  • meat, especially whole hot dogs
  • nuts, peanuts, seeds
  • peanut butter
  • popcorn
  • raisins
  • candy and gum (hard, gooey, or sticky): gum drops, hard candy, jelly beans

Some of these foods can be given simply by changing the form: cut hot dogs lengthwise and crosswise, cook carrots and other vegetables, spread peanut butter thinly, cut grapes or cherries into small pieces.


This is not specific to your child. If you have any questions, please call your clinic.

Last reviewed by Children's nutrition team 8/2015

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Family Resource Center library, or visit

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