Evidenced-based, practical food portion sizes for preschool children and how they fit into a well balanced, nutritionally adequate diet

J Hum Nutr Diet. 2015 Apr;28(2):135-54. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12228. Epub 2014 Mar 24.


Background: Healthy eating guidelines for 1-4-year-old children are available but evidence-based portion sizes have not been specified. Parents and early-years providers are concerned about under- or over-feeding young children. The present study aimed to report detailed information about appropriate average portion size ranges and suggest a practical food plan for feeding preschool children, providing adequate nutrient intakes within energy requirements.

Methods: Two sources of information were used to obtain an appropriate portion size range for the types of foods normally eaten by this age group. Median portions of a variety of foods were combined into a food plan fulfilling healthy eating guidelines regarding the number of servings from each food group. The nutrient and energy content of the plan was assessed and compared with recommended adequate nutrient intakes and percentage energy contributions from macronutrients. UK children, aged 1-4 years, taking part in Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and National Diet and Nutrition Survey, were used in the present study.

Results: Portion size ranges were developed for 164 foods. The theoretical food plan using foods with high to medium nutrient density was shown to provide an adequate intake of all nutrients, except vitamin D, for which there are very few food sources.

Conclusions: These practical food portion size ranges could be used both in early years settings and in advice to parents. The food plan emphasises the need to include a variety of nutrient-dense foods if a balanced diet is to be achieved for preschool children.

Keywords: The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children; balanced diet; nutritional adequacy; portion sizes; preschool children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diet*
  • Energy Intake
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Nutritive Value
  • Portion Size*
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage


  • Vitamin D