Healthy Meals and Physical Activity

Children Need Healthy Meals Just Like You Do!

The food guide pyramid for children is similar to adults, but portion sizes for younger children are much smaller, so caution is needed to prevent overeating. Children over the age of two should be encouraged to drink low-fat milk.

Children require more calories for their size than adults. These calories should provide the energy needed to grow and be physically active. Parents should avoid rewarding or punishing with food. This could cause a child to eat because of emotions and not because of hunger. Parents should strive to be a good example and eat a well-balanced and healthy diet.

Daily Pyramid Servings for Children and Teens

Food Group

Age Two-Six Years

1,600 calories

Older Children
and Teen Girls

2,200 calories

Teen Boys

2,800 calories


6 servings

9 servings

11 servings


3 servings

4 servings

5 servings


2 servings

3 servings

4 servings

Milk/Milk Product

2-3 servings

2-3 servings

2-3 servings

Meat/Meat Alternative

2 servings
Total of 5 oz.

3 servings
Total of 6 oz.

3 servings
Total of 7 oz.

Typical Serving Sizes

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 medium fruit
  • 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetable
  • 1 oz. of ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup canned fruit
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetable
  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
  • 3/4 cup of fruit juice
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable juice
  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1-1/2 oz. of natural cheese
  • 2-3 oz. of lean meat, fish, or poultry
  • 1/2 cup cooked dry beans, or 2 tablespoons peanut butter, or 1/3 cup of nuts = 1 oz. lean meat

Children Need Healthy Snacks, Too!

Children need to snack throughout the day because they have smaller stomachs and high caloric needs. Some parents think that snacking is a bad habit so they restrict the number of snacks their children receive each day. If snacks become a forbidden pleasure for a child, he or she will become curious and overeat when the chance arises.

Parents should be aware of where, what, and when their children snack. If no forethought is put into snack planning, then snacking can lead to excess calorie intake, weight gain, an inability to distinguish between satiety and hunger, and insufficient nutrient intake.

Snacks should be served at the table at consistent times just like meals. Eating in a designated area helps keep snacking purposeful and structured. Children enjoy a variety of textures and colors so incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Children Need to be Physically Active

Parents must promote physical activities to their children. This will help everyone become healthy and feel good about themselves.

In today's society of video and computer games, it's hard to get some children to become active. Parents should set an example and be role models by being active and setting limits on sedentary activities. Activity should be introduced slowly to the sedentary child and kept as fun as possible. Experts suggest at least 60 minutes of activity a day on most days for children and teenagers. Not all of the physical activity must be done at one time, but over the course of the day.

Children should be encouraged to try competing in an organized sport. If he or she doesn't like organized sports, then he or she should be encouraged to ride a bike, roller skate, or jump rope. These activities help build strong bones and muscles, and develop coordination. Once your child has found his favorite activity, whether it is team or an individual sport, encourage him to use it as a tool for lifelong health.

Visit the NPA Division's Physical Activity page for ways to get your child more physically active.

Page last updated: April 17, 2017