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Food portion sizes for children age 1 to 4

Children age 1 to 4 grow and develop fast. They need nourishing food to give them energy and nutrients. 

Give them child-size portions and servings of healthy food each day. Use the children's food pyramid as a guide. 

The children's food pyramid

The children's food pyramid is for children age 1 to 4. It shows a variety of foods and child-size servings. 

It's different to the pyramid for older children, teenagers and adults. This is because children under 5 have different nutrition needs.

The bottom of the children’s food pyramid is cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice. This is because children need more of these carbohydrate foods for energy and growth.

The pyramid shows how many daily servings your child should have from each shelf. There are examples of child-size servings on each shelf. Offer your child the number of servings suitable for their age.

The 5 main shelves are:

  • cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice - eat every day
  • vegetables, salad and fruit - eat every day
  • milk, yogurt and cheese - eat every day
  • meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts - eat every day
  • fats, spreads and oils - only in very small amounts

The red triangle on top contains foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt. Limit these foods to once a week at most and in tiny amounts.

pyramid showing 5 shelves of foods children should eat daily.
Food pyramid for children aged 1 to 4.

Food portions to give your child every day

Offer your child 3 meals and 2 to 3 healthy snacks each day. Use child-size portions and servings.

Go by your child’s appetite to help decide how much food to give them.

Lead by example. If you eat a variety of healthy food, your child will be more likely to do the same. Try to eat meals with your child when possible.

What you need to know about portion sizes

Meal plans -

Cereals and breads, potatoes, pasta and rice

These are carbohydrates. They are also called starchy foods. They provide energy and fibre. They also provide some B vitamins that help the body release energy from food.

Offer at least 1 of these foods at every meal.

Ages 1 to 2: 3 to 4 servings a day

Ages 3 to 4: 4 to 6 servings a day

Examples of 1 serving of carbohydrates
  • half cup (30g) flaked cereal fortified with iron
  • 1 to 1 and a half wheat cereal biscuits
  • 1 plain rice cake (unsalted)
  • 1 to 2 crackers
  • half to 1 slice of bread
  • half to 1 small roll
  • half pitta pocket
  • half small wrap
  • half chapatti
  • 1 unsalted breadstick
  • half to 1 small cooked potato
  • half cup (30g to 40g) cooked sweet potato or yam
  • half cup (30g to 40g) cooked pasta
  • half cup (30g to 40g) cooked rice
  • half cup (30g to 40g) cooked noodles
  • half cup (30g to 40g) cooked couscous

Give cereal with added iron

Offer your child porridge or another breakfast cereal with added iron most days of the week. 

Standard porridge is a healthy breakfast food, but children age 1 to 4 benefit from 1 with added iron.

Iron is very important for a young child's growth and development. It keeps their blood healthy.

Some porridge, wheat biscuits and flake cereals have iron added.

Check the label for a cereal with at least 12mg of iron per 100g. 

How to read food labels -

Add chopped berries to porridge or cereal that contains iron. Berries have vitamin C. This helps the body to absorb iron.

Limit sugar-coated and chocolate-coated breakfast cereals.

Why children need iron and other foods with iron

Give a mix of white and wholemeal

Young children can eat a mix of white and wholemeal breads, pasta, rice and other cereals.

If you only offer wholemeal and wholegrain choices, your child may get full quickly. This can reduce their appetite for other nourishing foods.

If your child is prone to constipation, offer them:

  • more wholemeal and wholegrain foods
  • lots to drink
  • a variety of fruit and vegetables

How to help a child who is constipated

Vegetables, salad and fruit

These foods provide vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Offer small servings of chopped vegetables, salad or fruit at every meal and as snacks.

An average serving size is about 40g. A serving size that fits into half the palm of your hand is about right for children age 1 to 4.

Ages 1 to 2: 2 to 3 servings a day

Ages 3 to 4: 4 to 5 servings a day

Examples of 1 serving of fruit and vegetables
  • 1 plum
  • 1 kiwi
  • 1 mandarin
  • 100ml unsweetened orange juice
  • half orange
  • half apple (with skin removed)
  • half pear (with skin removed)
  • half banana
  • 3 to 4 cooked carrot sticks
  • 3 to 4 cucumber sticks
  • 5 to 6 berries cut in halves or quarters
  • 5 to 6 grapes cut in quarters
  • 3 to 4 cherry tomatoes cut in quarters
  • half cup (30g to 40g) tinned fruit in natural juice
  • half cup (30g to 40g) cooked, fresh or frozen vegetables
  • 100ml vegetable soup

Vegetables in a mix of colours

Offer your child a mix of different coloured vegetables, salad and fruit. Include green, yellow, orange, red and purple. These provide a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin C foods

Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. Iron is an important nutrient for young children.

Berries, oranges, kiwis and red peppers are good sources of vitamin C. You can chop berries into porridge or cereal that contains iron.

Why limit fruit juice

Limit dried fruit

Limit dried fruit such as raisins and dried apricots to once a week. Dried fruit is sugary and can lead to tooth decay.

Caring for your child’s teeth

Milk, yogurt and cheese

These foods provide calcium for healthy bones and teeth.

Ages 1 to 2: 3 servings a day

Ages 3 to 4: 3 servings a day

1 serving is:

  • 200ml plain milk
  • 1 pot (125g) plain yogurt
  • 2 small pots (47g) plain or natural fromage frais (children's yogurt)
  • 2 adult thumb sizes of cheese
  • homemade custard or rice pudding made with 200ml of milk
  • 200ml unsweetened soya drink fortified with calcium

Offering milk as a drink with meals is an easy way to give 1 of the 3 daily servings.

1 serving can combine two foods or drinks. For example, 1 serving could be 100ml of milk with 1 small pot (47g) plain or natural fromage frais. Or 100ml milk with 1 adult thumb of cheese.

Drinks for children age 1 to 4

Breast milk

Breast milk counts towards the 3 recommended servings. Continue to provide breast milk up to the age of 2 or beyond.

If you are breastfeeding, you can still add cows' milk to your child’s cereal or offer it as a drink.

It is important to also give yogurt and cheese to help meet your child’s nutritional needs. 

The benefits of breastfeeding for longer

Soya and plant-based drinks

You can give your child soya milk if they are allergic to cows' milk. Choose soya milk that is unsweetened and fortified with calcium.

Almond milk, coconut milk, rice milks and other plant-based drinks are not suitable for young children.

Food allergies in children

Formula milk

Children age 1 and older do not need formula milk.


Offer small pots of plain or natural yogurt or fromage frais with meals or between meals.

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts

These foods provide protein and iron. Your child needs these for growth and development.

Offer your child 1 of these foods at their 2 main meals every day.

Red meats such as beef, lamb and pork contain iron. They should be offered 3 times a week.

Ages 1 to 2: 2 servings a day

Ages 3 to 4: 3 to 4 servings a day

An average serving of cooked beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey or fish is about 30g. This is about a third the size of an adult’s palm.

Examples of 1 serving of this food group
  • 30g cooked beef
  • 30g cooked lamb
  • 30g cooked chicken or turkey
  • 30g cooked salmon
  • quarter cup (40g) baked beans
  • quarter cup (40g) lentils
  • quarter cup (40g) peas
  • quarter cup (40g) chickpeas
  • 35g hummus
  • 35g cooked tofu
  • 2 falafels
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 heaped teaspoon smooth peanut or nut butter

Limit processed meats

Do not give processed meat such as ham or bacon to your child more than once a week. They are high in salt. Use small amounts.

Avoid chicken nuggets, sausages and burgers

Chicken nuggets, sausages and burgers are high in fat and salt. They have less protein than other types of meat. They should not be a regular part of your child’s diet. If you are giving them sausages, remember to remove the skin.

Oily fish

Oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, trout and sardines have Omega 3 and vitamin D. These are good for brain and eye development.

Offer them once a week. Fish can be fresh or tinned. Avoid fish tinned in brine or salt.

Vitamin D supplements for children age 1 to 4

Nuts and nut butter

Offer your child smooth nut butter with no added sugar and salt.

Do not give whole nuts to children under 5 because of the risk of choking.

Common food choking risks

Vegetarian protein sources

Good vegetarian protein sources include:

  • eggs
  • soya products
  • peas
  • chickpeas
  • beans
  • nuts -  use a safe form like smooth nut butter
  • seeds

Foods from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ section also provide protein.

Lack of iron can be a problem with vegetarian diets. Consult a registered dietitian for advice.

Iron in your child's diet

Page last reviewed: 10 July 2023
Next review due: 10 July 2026

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.