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Eating Habits and Portion Size

Over the years the amount of food we eat at each meal, or snack time has got much bigger. This is part of the reason that more people are overweight.

It can be hard to know how much is enough for ourselves and our children to eat. A healthy, balanced diet means not only eating the right types of food and drink, but also eating them in the right amounts. How much a child needs will vary with age, body size and how active they are.

  • Toddlers can be very up and down about how much and how often they want to eat. Some days they might be hard to ‘fill up’ and others eating very little. This is normal. Try not to stress. Keep offering healthy foods and set a good example yourself by eating well.

    If parents stay calm and avoid persuading toddlers to eat when they are not too bothered, it tends to balance itself out. It can be tempting to offer your child foods you know they will eat and offer alternatives or extra snacks. This can get in the way of your child’s eating instincts. If your child is well and has bags of energy then they are likely to be getting it right for themselves.

    One of the most important lessons your child can learn during these early years is to listen to their body about how much or how little they need to eat. If you still feel worried you can contact us on the number below for reassurance and support.

  • There are ways you can encourage your child to eat what they need and stop when they are full;

    • Use ‘child sized’ bowls and plates. Give servings about the size of their clenched fist
    • Let them eat at their own pace
    • Your child does not have to finish everything on their plate
    • Don’t present sweeter foods as a ‘reward’ or bribe.

    Family mealtimes should;

    • Happen at a regular time
    • Be eaten together whenever you can. Even if you don’t have a table try and sit together
    • Make mealtimes TV, screen and phone free. This gives the chance to notice when you are getting full and share family time.



Drinking lots of fluids is an important part of keeping well. Drinking can help with portion control. It is easy to mistake feeling thirsty for feeling hungry. Children need about 6-8 glasses to drink a day, if using a glass that holds about 150 – 200mls.

There are so many drinks to choose it can be hard to know what is best for your children. 

  • Tap water is the best of the best ways to keep hydrated. If children have been used to juice or squash being added to water, you could try;

    • Slowly reducing how much you add
    • Try using a new water bottle or cup to tempt them
    • Try putting a small amount of fresh fruit into water for added flavour.

  • Milk contains valuable vitamins and minerals.


    • For the first six months babies are entirely dependent on breast or formula milk
    • From six months of age babies begin to include solid food in their diet. It is important that from this time the amount of milk drunk is reduced. If not it will affect their appetite – as too much milk is as filling as a meal
    • Until babies are a year old they should have breastmilk, formula milk or water to drink
    • If you are formula feeding there is no need to use follow-on milks. By one year of age your baby can make the change over to full fat cow’s milk.

    Older children 

    • Between the ages of 1-3 children should have just over half a pint of milk (300mls) to drink a day. This should be drunk from a from a ‘free flowing’ cup
    • From around 2 years, children who eat a varied diet can have semi-skimmed milk.

    Many children and adults continue to enjoy milk and this is a good thing. Remember it is more of a snack than a drink.

  • Fresh fruit juices contain vitamins and minerals that are good for us. They also contain a lot of sugars. A portion is 150mls (a small glass) and you should only have one portion a day.

  • Many drinks like squash, milkshakes, smoothies, fizzy drinks and hot chocolates all contain added sugar. Sweet and sugary drinks can easily push up our sugar intake. For example;

    • Regular Cola contains 14 sugar cubes
    • Blackcurrant squash contains 13 sugar cubes.

    Sugary drinks can ‘confuse’ our appetite making us feel full when we are not, and making our blood sugars spike and then fall.  This causes us to feel tired and hungry. It is important these drinks are just a very occasional treat.


  • Energy drinks contain high levels of sugar. They also contain high levels of caffeine. Often twice the amount found in a strong cup of coffee. This can cause many health and wellbeing problems including;

    • High blood pressure
    • Irregular heart beats
    • Anxiety
    • Hyperactivity
    • Stomach aches.

    Energy drinks do not provide any helpful vitamins and minerals so are best avoided by everyone – especially children and young people.

Eatwell Guide

Use the Eatwell Guide to help you get a balance of healthier and more sustainable food.

It shows how much of what you eat overall should come from each food group.

Eatwell Guide

Fruit and vegetables

Eat at least 5 portions of different fruit and vegetables every day.

Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates

Choose wholegrain or higher fibre versions with less added fat, salt and sugar.

Oils & Spreads

Choose unsaturated oils and use in small amounts.

Dairy and alternatives

Choose lower fat and lower sugar options.

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins

Eat more beans and pulses, 2 portions of fish per week, one of which is oily. Eat less red and processed meat.

Pictures of various unhealthy foods

Eat Less

Eat less often and in small amounts.


6-8 a day

Water, lower fat milk, sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee all count.

Limit fruit juice and/or smoothies to a total of 150ml a day.

Check the label on 
packaged foods.

Nutritional labels example

Choose foods lower 
in fat, salt and sugars.

Who Can Help?

If you are concerned about your child’s weight or eating habits and feel you need support then you can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

Alternatively you can go to see your GP to discuss concerns.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum. CLICK HERE

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