How Much……Exactly?

Feeding our young children can be a numbers game. Ounces, grams, cups, tablespoons; we often question how much is enough when it comes to feeding our children.

A young child’s natural progression of growth can cause our questioning to get even more intense during the dinner hour (and the breakfast hour, and the lunch hour, and the hour around snack time…….).  During the first year of life our children grow dramatically–and it is hard to know if we are providing enough food to support them in this growth.  In the next years of life their growth actually slows considerably, so what we have become used to feeding our children in terms of quantity, well, they act like they just don’t need it all anymore.

This leaves us with the constant question–“How much food is enough? How do we know our children have had enough food, enough nutrition, enough liquid, to keep them healthy over the course of the day or the week or the year?” Adults have a tendency to build on the concrete evidence that surrounds us. It seems logical to answer these questions by looking at the food pyramid, by mapping out meals that include all food groups, by insisting on our child eating “a bit of everything” because that is what we have provided.  Unfortunately, parents of young children already know that these logical questions and answers and nutritional facts go right out the window when they refuse to open their mouths at the dinner table.

The staff at Harley Hopkins is interested in providing some helpful hints around feeding and nutrition. Understanding typical toddler behavior helps families understand that what is going on around food is often a result of the child’s emotional, social and physical development–not an on-purpose clash of the wills over the table.  Charts of serving and portion sizes encourage a closer look at how much your baby or toddler is expected to eat during this period.  Our hope is to take some of the questioning out of meal time.  However, we can’t provide information without offering one really significant caveat:

Toddlers are famous for being completely un-categorize-able! Toddlers are consistently inconsistent.  They rarely follow exacting standards on anything.  Instead they explore boundaries.  For this reason they will explore the outer boundaries of what is considered “normal eating” regularly.  Therefore we want to stress one over-arching rule:

Trust that your children know their own feelings of fullness and hunger. During mealtimes, trust that they eat because they are hungry, and that they will stop because they are full. Try to honor their cues.

Ellyn Satter is an authority on eating and feeding within families.  The Hopkins staff often refer to her information when discussing nutrition with families.  We would like to share some of her information with you.

In her book “Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense” she offers the following chart which lists typical daily formula intakes for bottle feeding babies.  This provides a wide window of “normal intake”, but offers parents who are in the beginning stages of feeding a sense of what they might be able to expect:

0-1 month         14-28 ounces
1-2 months       23-34 ounces
2-3 months       25-40 ounces
3-4 months       27-39 ounces
4-5 months       29-46 ounces
5-6 months       32-48 ounces

As a child moves into eating solids, the amount of formula they will consume will slowly be reduced. Remember that when baby begins exploring with solid foods she is doing just that–simply exploring.  She will not gain a majority of her nutrients from table food for quite some time.  She will be depending on bottle feeding or nursing to provide the majority of her calories for months, until she has mastered the skills to consume the table food that her parents are enjoying.

How much of that table food is enough, then?

Ellyn Satter provides a chart listing portion sizes for children aged 1-3 years (again, in the book “Child of Mine”). Compare the portion sizes to what you often offer in order to check your understanding of what a serving consists of for your child.


Ages 1-3 yrs

Meat, Poultry or Fish

1-2 Tablespoons



Cooked Dried Beans

1-2 Tablespoons

Pasta, Rice or Potatoes

1-2 Tablespoons


1/4 slice


1-2 Tablespoons


1-2 Tablespoons or

1/4 piece


1/4–1/3 cup

It is important to note that some children will eat more and some will eat less, but this is a starting point for servings which respects the capacity of a child’s body to take in calories. In addition, because toddlers often have only one “good” meal a day, it is best to think of nutrition in terms of weekly totals, not daily intake. If you are interested in understanding more about what can lead to successful family meals, follow the link below to Ellyn Satter’s web site:

Ellyn Satter’s Feeding Tips

The numbers game is often the first thing parents think about when we consider feeding our child. By understanding more fully how to answer that question, we can move our family meal time away from the focus of “How much did you eat” into another realm –“How Much…of our time around the dinner table is pleasant, engaged family time.”

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