How Much Does My Kid Need to Eat?

Healthy eating for 4- to 6-year-olds

AGES 4-6 Branching Out

Daily Calorie Needs 1,500-1,750

While you were able to keep tabs on what your toddler ate, kids this age consume about 40 percent or more of their calories away from you, usually having snacks and lunch at school or on after-school playdates. "Keep snack portions on the small side, and boost the amount of food by about one third at the main meals," suggests Sarah Krieger, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in St. Petersburg, Florida. Other tips:

boy eating cereal

Fancy Photography/Veer

  • Make a lunch date. Some schools allow parents to drop by and have lunch with their child once in while, or at least volunteer in the lunchroom. "Most kids this age are slow eaters, and end up throwing out a lot of their lunch," says Liz Weiss, R.D., coauthor of No Whine With Dinner. "So don't count on your child getting all the calories in her lunch box. Adjust her lunch size accordingly, and plan for a bigger breakfast or dinner."
  • Watch out for emotional eating. If your child is constantly asking for snacks, he may be eating out of boredom or even anxiety. Use a "hunger scale" with your kids: 0 is totally empty, 10 is totally full, and 5 is neither hungry nor full. "If he's above a 5 and asking for food, he's probably eating for emotional reasons," says Susan M. Kosharek, R.D., author of If Your Child Is Overweight: A Guide for Parents. He's old enough to understand emotions, so help give words to his feelings by asking, "Are you angry? Are you worried?" Then help him problem-solve or distract him from the situation without using food.
  • Serve family style. Allow your child to serve herself -- without any prompting or pressuring from you -- and she'll likely take a portion that's just the right size. "Some parents unknowingly over-feed by giving adult-size portions, and kids get used to eating those larger amounts," says Castle. Go to to find out the serving sizes for kids at every age.

AGES 4-6 Sample Menu

Serve meals with 3/4 cup of low-fat milk; switch to water if your child is still thirsty. Have water or 100% juice at snacktime. Don't exceed 6 ounces of juice daily.

1 small whole-wheat bagel spread with 1 tbs. nut or seed butter
1/2 cup fruit salad

1/2 turkey-and-cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread
Yellow pepper strips with 2 tbs. low-fat ranch dressing
1/2 cup sliced strawberries

2 oz. fish (such as cod or tilapia)
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
4 asparagus spears roasted in olive oil

1/4 cup hummus and 10 baby carrots
1 small box raisins

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