Toddler Portion Sizes

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    Parents are feeding their toddlers too much food according to research from leading health and nutrition experts - the Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF).


    The survey of 1000 UK mums and dads revealed that 79%* of parents routinely offer portions bigger than the recommended size range for pre-schoolers when serving popular meals (such as spaghetti bolognaise and chicken nuggets with chips), drinks and treats.  The survey, which involved parents looking at images of portion sizes, also revealed that more than 10% of parents usually serve their child close to an adult-size portion of spaghetti bolognaise or cheese sandwiches.

    Did you know?

    • A serving of Spaghetti Bolognese for a 1-4 year old is 3-5 tablespoons
    • Crisps, sweets or sweet drinks should only be given once per week
    • A bag of crisps is nearly twice the portion size a toddler should be eating
    • A small pack of jelly sweets is three times the recommended amount for a 1-4 year old

    Only a quarter of parents say they feel ‘very confident’ about the amount of food they give their child, and younger parents (aged 18-24 years) are significantly less confident than older parents.    Parents also seemed more concerned that their child was eating too little rather than too much with 73% expressing this as a worry. Only 25% of parents worry that their child might become overweight in the future. 

    There was also a tendency for parents to use food or drink between meals to comfort their children, with 36% of parents using this method to calm children down when they are upset. Experts say that using food or drink as a reward, to comfort and/or distract encourages young children to rely on food to deal with emotions, which they will continue in later life.

    In response to these findings the ITF, supported by 4Children, Family Lives and the Pre-school Learning Alliance, is launching the #rethinktoddlerportionsizes campaign. The campaign aims to encourage all families to rethink how much is on the plates of their young children and is calling for guidance on appropriate portion sizes for families of young children to be a key public health strategy in the fight against obesity.

    The ITF has developed a range of practical resources to help parents such as an image bank of portion size ranges and Tot It Up, a toddler food tracker.

    Top 5 tips for parents from Judy More, Paediatric Dietitian

    1. Keep to planned snacks rather than allowing grazing and offer healthy choices such as oatcakes, fruit or breadsticks.
    2. Try to hug or distract your child when they are upset rather than giving food or sweet drinks.
    3. Limit sweets and crisps to one item once a week and decant small amounts into little pots rather than giving your child the whole packet.
    4. Most parents offer too much squash and fruit juice so offer water or dilute as much as possible.
    5. Limit milk drinks to 3-4oz (100-120mls) per day - toddlers need much less milk than babies.

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    Images reproduced with kind permission from the Infant & Toddler Forum. For more please see