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Understanding portions and servings is often perplexing for folks of all ages and it may be difficult to make sense of all of the recommendations and various terminology. First, let’s define the following:
A “serving” is the amount of food recommended in consumer education materials and by professionals for dietary guidance.
A “portion” is the amount of a food you choose to eat at any one time — which may be more or less than a serving.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations for children aged 1-10. Of course, proper nutrition is very much individualized, so a child may need more or less food based on activity levels, health status, or other reasons.
In general, recommendations are categorized among the 5 food groups: fruit, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.
For all children 1-10 years old, the serving suggestions are the same:
Take note about servings versus portions: Although a 1-year old and 10-year old should both have 2 servings of protein sources per day, a serving for a 1-year old is measured as 1 ounce of meat or half of an egg, whereas a serving for a 10-year old is 2-3 ounces of meat or up to 2 eggs.
Understanding this may arm parents and caregivers to in turn help children recognize how much food is appropriate for a meal while making sure that leftovers or extras are available depending on your child’s level of hunger.
It is also important to consider the difference between portions and servings when providing children with packaged food items like crackers, chips, or other snacks. The nutrition label on the box may say that a serving size is 12 crackers, but this is based on what one serving would be for someone who needs 2,000 calories per day. A toddler does not need nearly that many calories on a daily basis, nor does a middle-schooler.
For a quick reference, check out this chart used by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also highlights what options fall within each food group. Print for ease of use!
Don’t feel frustrated if you have trouble following the recommendations exactly. No two children are the same, so it’s important to be flexible!