Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.3 Requirements for Special Groups or Ages of Children

4.3.2 Nutrition for Toddlers and Preschoolers Serving Size for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 05/31/2018.

The facility should serve toddlers and preschoolers small, age-appropriate portions. The facility should permit children to have one or more additional servings of nutritious foods that are low in fat, sugar, and sodium as required to meet the caloric needs of the individual child. Serving dishes should contain, at minimum, the amount of food based on serving sizes or portions recommended for each child outlined in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Young children should learn what appropriate portion size is by being served plates, bowls, and cups that are developmentally and age appropriate.

Food service staff and/or a caregiver/teacher is responsible for preparing the amount of food based on the recommended age-appropriate amount of food per serving for each child to be fed. Usually a reasonable amount of additional food is prepared to respond to any spills or to children requesting a second serving.

Children should continue to be exposed to new foods, textures, and tastes throughout infancy, toddlerhood, and preschool. Children should not be required or forced to eat any specific food items. Caregivers/teachers should create a supportive environment that promotes positive, sound eating behaviors (1).


A child will not eat the same amount each day because appetites vary and food jags are common (2). Eating habits established in infancy and early childhood may contribute to optimal eating patterns later in life. These habits include nutritious meals/snacks consumed in a pleasant, clean, supportive mealtime atmosphere with age-appropriate plates/utensils (1). The quality of snacks for young and school-aged children is especially important, and small, frequent feedings are recommended to achieve the total desired daily intake.

Strong evidence supports that larger plates, bowls, and cups, when paired with sustained long-term exposure of oversized portions, promote overeating (3). Allowing children to decide how much to eat, through family-style dining, may also help promote self-regulation in children (3).


The CACFP guidelines for meal and snack patterns can be found at

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Use of US Department of Agriculture Child and Adult Care Food Program Guidelines Meal and Snack Patterns for Toddlers and Preschoolers Encouraging Self-Feeding by Older Infants and Toddlers
  1. Mita SC, Gray SA, Goodell LS. An explanatory framework of teachers' perceptions of a positive mealtime environment in a preschool setting. Appetite. 2015;90:37–44

  2. Green RJ, Samy G, Miqdady MS, et al. How to improve eating behavior during early childhood. Pediatric Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2015;18(1):1–9

  3. McCrickerd K, Leong C, Forde CG. Preschool children's sensitivity to teacher-served portion size is linked to age related differences in leftovers. Appetite. 2017;114:320–328


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 05/31/2018.