Almost half of meals served to young children are too big or too small

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Analysis by the Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF) found 49 per cent of meals served to children aged between one and four were outside the recommended portion size range.


The ITF found parents typically overserved foods high in fat, but foods such as fruit and vegetables were often given in small portions

The ITF, which has analysed data provided by 270 parents on its online food tracker for children, Tot It Up, also found that:

  • pizza servings are larger than recommended 50 per cent of the time
  • 44 per cent of toddlers eat too many crisps
  • although apples are one of the most frequently served fruits and snacks, children are given below the recommended amount 43 per cent of the time.

Foods high in fat and sugar were usually overserved, while foods such as fruit and vegetables were often given in too small a portion, the research discovered.

Tot It Up allows parents and practitioners to input information on children’s food intake and physical activity levels on a daily or weekly basis. The tool then creates a personalised analysis of the child’s diet in light of current recommendations, and provides tips on portion size, healthy meal ideas and a range of physical activities to help make changes in order to maintain a healthy balance.

The ITF’s guidance is based on the updates to the 5532 guidance (see below) made by the British Nutrition Foundation in July in order to provide comprehensive advice for parents and professionals on what children should be eating and drinking, and how much.

An ITF team including midwives, neonatologists, paediatric dieticians and nutritionists developed a range of educational resources and tools to support healthy eating and child nutrition, which are available for free on its website.

Tot It Up was launched as an app in 2014 and as an online tool a year later. The ITF now plans to continue to release analysis from its data every six months to track trends in children’s nutrition.

The ITF’s analysis comes after research by Boots Kids Vitamins found that many parents lack basic knowledge about what their children should be eating. The survey found seven in ten parents knew children should consume five portions of fruit and veg a day, but 29 per cent did not know why.

Lucy Upton, specialist paediatric dietitian and nutritionist at the ITF, said, ‘There is a huge amount of information around feeding children which can be overwhelming for parents to navigate. With sources such as social media, written material, friend and family opinions, product marketing and pre-portioned toddler snacks or meals, it’s no wonder it’s hard to get it right.

‘It’s so important that parents are able to access clear evidence-based recommendations on feeding their children, that are easy to apply at home, to increase their knowledge and confidence.’

Tips from Lucy Upton on toddlers’ diets

Toddlers should be given 10 micrograms of vitamin D in a supplement every day. Without a supplement, many toddlers are at risk of deficiency which can, in more severe circumstances, lead to rickets or fits due to low blood calcium levels.

The amount of food young children eat varies widely from day to day and meal to meal, so they should be encouraged to eat to their appetite.

It is important to ensure toddlers are well-hydrated throughout the day. Offering toddlers six to eight drinks per day will prevent dehydration and may help reduce constipation.

Encourage physical activity for at least three hours every day and about 12 hours sleep. Screen time should be limited to just one hour a day.

The 5532 guide

The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) has published its updated 5532 guide, a resource about healthy eating for children aged between one and four.


Developed by the BNF’s team of nutrition scientists and an advisory group of experts in early years nutrition, it includes new information on free sugars and advice on vegetarian and vegan diets.

Its name comes from the number of portions of each food group children are advised to eat:

  • 5 portions of starchy foods
  • 5 (or more) portions of fruit and vegetables
  • 3 portions of dairy foods
  • 2 portions of protein foods (or three if a child is vegetarian).

The guide also contains examples of food within each group and portion size ranges to suit varying appetites.

Other tips include:

  • Offer children a small, healthy snack such as fruit or vegetable sticks two to three times a day.
  • Children aged one to two should have whole milk. Those eating well can be given semi-skimmed milk after two years. Skimmed or 1 per cent milk is not suitable for children under five.
  • Children should eat no more than 2g of salt per day.
  • Encourage children to be physically active for at least three hours a day.


  • Click here for the Infant and Toddler Forum website
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