Serving-Size Meal Planning (a new way to plan your week!)


Hey there!

Do you ever find yourself at the grocery store, stuck trying to figure out just how much of something you need to make a meal? Maybe you have a recipe, but you need to modify it, or perhaps you just want to have a stash of cooked foods to throw together, but you’re afraid of either running out mid-week or having to throw things away?

I hear you.

Trying to calculate how much ground beef you need to buy, or how much cheese you need to shred, can really add on to the decision fatigue and make the process of meal-planning far more tedious than it needs to be.

But fear not, my friend!

I have a strategy designed to help you overcome the challenges that recipe adaptation can add to your life, and make planning dinner a breeze.

Introducing….Serving-Size Meal Planning!

Now hear me out. The concept behind planning your meals around serving sizes will help you to more easily determine how much of an ingredient you need to shop for and cook. That way you can be sure to have enough when company comes over, or even if you’re making dinner for one less person tonight.

By determining the appropriate serving sizes of particular foods, you can use basic math to make sure your count is accurate and your chance for waste is minimized.

Today we’re going to cover basic food groups like proteins, dairy, grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, and discuss the appropriate serving size for toddlers, children, and adults.

(Please be advised that the below servings sizes are suggestions. I am not a doctor, nor a certified nutritionist, and if you or someone you cook for has a specialty diet or restriction, this list may not work for your needs. If you’ve got a “new-eater” on your hands I’ve got a whole bunch of suggestions for how to work best with that here:  Feeding Your Toddler: A Field Guide.)


If Meat is your go-to source for protein, we are talking poultry, beef, pork, or fish. These serving sizes remain the same, however, if you use tofu, tempeh, seitan, or another meat alternative.

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) -  1 -1 ½ ounces. This means 2 -3 tablespoons, or for a visual guide, an ounce equals about one thumb length from knuckle to tip.

Grade School Children (K-12) – 2-3 ounces. Again, we’re talking 4-6 tablespoons, or 2-3 thumb-lengths.

Adults – 4-8 ounces. This depends on whether it’s a lunch (4-6 oz) or dinner portion (6-8 oz) and also on your particular nutrition needs.

Eggs. Here I am referring to one whole egg (white plus yolk) if you are using whites only you can double this serving size. Yolk-only servings should stay the same to control cholesterol.

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) - ½ - 1 egg, or 1-2 for egg whites only  

Grade School Children (K-12) – 1-1/2 eggs, or 2-3 for egg whites only

Adults­ – 2 – 3 eggs, or 4-6 for egg whites only

Beans/Legumes. This goes for dried and canned, and applies to all types of beans, peas, lentils, etc. Please note that this serving size applies to a side serving only. You may need more if beans/legumes are your main source of protein in the meal.

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) – ¼ - 1/2 cup

Grade School Children (K-12) – 1/2 – 3/4 cup

Adults  - ½ - 1 cup


Milk in this instance is served as a beverage. You can use the same suggestions for plant and nut-based milks for all ages. (Please discuss with your child’s pediatrician before you begin using a milk alternative for a child under 2.)

 Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) ½ -3/4 cup (4-6 oz)

Grade School Children (K-12) – 1 cup (8 oz)

Adults - 1 cup (8 oz)

Cheese. Here we are talking whole, real cheeses such as mozzarella, feta, cheddar, etc. The same serving size is also recommended for cheese alternatives such as cashew cheese or other. I don’t personally recommend “cheese product” but that’s just me. The serving size still applies.

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) – 1- 1 ½ oz (2-3 tbsp or 1 ½ thumb lengths)

Grade School Children (K-12) – 1 ½ - 2 oz (3-4 tbsp or 1 ½ - 2 thumb lengths)

Adults – 2-3 oz (4-6 tbsp or 2-3 thumb-lengths)

Yogurt. (You can use any type of yogurt in this scenario.)

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) – 4-6 ounces (1/2 – ¾ cup)

Grade School Children (K-12) – 6-8 ounces (3/4 -1 cup)

Adults -  8 ounces (1 cup)


Bread in this case means sliced loaf bread, or baked goods such as a dinner roll, biscuit, muffin, etc. (And cake too, sure, why not?) The serving size applies to sprouted and gluten-free options too.

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) – ½ -1 slice, roll, muffin, etc. (5-8 servings per week)

Grade School Children (K-12) – 1 slice, roll, muffin, etc. (12-15 servings per week)

Adults – 1-1 ½ slices, roll, muffin, etc. servings per meal

Pasta. This covers all types of pastas; wheat, veggie, gluten free, bean, etc.

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4)  -  ¼ - ½ cup cooked

Grade School Children (K-12)  ½ cup cooked

Adults – ½ -1 cup cooked

Cereal. Again, we are talking about any type of cereal. Can also include oatmeal, muesli, granola, or similar here.

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4)  - ¼ - 1/2 cup

Grade School Children (K-12) - ½ - 1 cup

Adults – 1 cup

Rice/Quinoa/Farro/Etc. this serving size applies to all types of rice and similar.

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4)  - ¼ - 1/2 cup

Grade School Children (K-12) - ½ - 1 cup

Adults – ½ - 1 cup


(Please be advised that I do not recommend loose nuts to children under 2, or who haven’t quite grown all of their teeth)


Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) I suggest grinding loose nuts into a “butter” for little ones, or just avoiding them all together. Serving size is ½  ounce or 1 tablespoons

Grade School Children (K-12) – for nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews etc., 5-7 or half a handful. For small seeds such as chia or hemp, 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons

Adults  - for nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews etc., 10 or about a handful. For small seeds such as chia or hemp, 2 – 3 teaspoons

Nut Butters

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) -  ½ ounce or 1 tablespoon

Grade School Children (K-12) – 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons

Adults - 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons

Fruit and Vegetables

Fresh. (I tell Brynne that fruit and vegetables are “anytime foods” meaning that she can have them whenever she likes. I don’t personally monitor her intake on fresh fruits and vegetables too closely, but we definitely do stick to right around her appropriate serving size each time we give her them.)

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) – for “handheld” fruits such as an orange, banana, etc. generally ¼ - 1/2 is an appropriate serving size. For fruits and veggies that need to be sliced, or are small such as berries and grape tomatoes, figure about ¼ - 1/2 cup. Avocado is an exception to this rule, however, and should be served at 1/8 – 1/4 each time.

Grade School Children (K-12) for “handhelds” ½ -one is an appropriate serving size. Fruits and veggies that need to be sliced, or are small, one cup. Avocado should be served at ¼ - ½ each time.

Adults - for “handhelds” one is an appropriate serving size. For fruits that need to be sliced, or are small, about one cup. Avocado should be served at ¼ - ½ each time.

Prepared (Cooked, Canned, Frozen, Mashed, etc.)

Prepared fruits and veggies are another “anytime” type of food, and portion sizes don’t need to be as carefully monitored as other foods, however, this “anytime” rule isn’t applicable if the serving is tossed with butter, cheese, or oil, etc.

Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) ¼ - ½ cup

Grade School Children (K-12)   - ½ - 1 cup

Adults – ½ - 1 cup


Toddlers/Preschool (age 1-4) – 1-2 teaspoons

Grade School Children (K-12) 2-3 teaspoons

Adults – 1-2 tablespoons

So now that we’ve covered basic serving sizes, how do we apply this to meal planning? By creating a basic equation!

Take the following meal as an example:

I am serving two adults, two school-age children and one toddler a meal. I am making chicken broccoli alfredo with chicken breasts, whole wheat pasta, frozen chopped broccoli, and a homemade alfredo sauce. The alfredo sauce serves 4 adults.

I will need approximately

  • ·         18-20 oz chicken (or about 1 ¼ lbs)
  • ·         4 ½ cups frozen broccoli
  • ·         3 – 3 ¼ cups pasta
  • ·         About 5 total tablespoons alfredo sauce, tossed

See how that makes my shopping easier? Now I personally might not go crazy with measuring out alfredo sauce, but if I were in a situation where I was counting calories, or if someone I was cooking for was on a calorie-restrictive diet I might. And it’s good to know a ball-park figure for how much is enough or too much.

So, how can you apply this to a weekly shopping trip? Look at your recipes and then look at your list. If you have 2 meals this week that require chicken, say, and your family constitutes the members I mentioned in the example, you would know that for each meal you’d need approximately 1 ¼ lbs of chicken, or 2 ½ lbs total.

Do you have to make yourself nuts getting down to the exact ¼ cup or teaspoon per serving on things? No way. This guide is intended to make your life easier, not harder. It all just depends on how you think and plan, and how your mind works when you’re making a grocery list.

I also found it to be pretty eye-opening when it came to the recommended serving sizes of quite a few foods! It’s a good frame of reference, and I hope you find it as useful as I do.

That’s all for now! You can submit the form below to download the free printable reference guide. Stick it on your fridge or put it in your meal-planning binder.



Till next time!