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Expert Tips: How to Build a Healthy Plate for Kids

How to Build a Healthy Plate for Kids

Written by: Danielle Zold. Danielle Zold is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Lactation Counselor based out of Denver, Colorado. Danielle is owner of Bitty Bites Nutrition, LLC and specializes in pediatric nutrition and picky eating. Her goal is to help little ones grow, thrive, and develop a healthy relationship with food. Danielle provides individual consultations, focusing on each individual child’s strengths and developmental stages to find foods that fit. Check out her Instagram at @pickyeatingdietitian and her website at

Parents want to do what’s best for their children and I often hear: “what should I feed my kids?” You as a parent or caregiver are responsible for what you are feeding your kids and when food is served, but your kids are responsible for deciding if they are going to eat, and if so, how much or what on the plate they are going to eat. So – how do you do your part? What should you actually feed your kids? I am going to teach you a general plan for creating healthy meals, and I promise – it’s not as daunting as it seems.

Serving Sizes

First of all - how much food does your child need? The rule of thumb is: 1 tablespoon of food per year of age, per food group. That means, for a 3-year-old, they should be offered three tablespoons of a fruit or veggie, three tablespoons of a grain or starch, and three tablespoons of a protein-rich food.

Of course, that’s not to say that’s how much they WILL eat. It’s just a rough guideline of how much you should offer. They can always have more, and they may not want to eat all three foods, and that is okay!

Let’s break down each of those categories to determine why they’re good for your little one.

Fruits and Vegetables

Produce offers lots of nutrients, including, but not limited to: potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, and LOTS of other vitamins + minerals. They also contain lots of fiber, which helps to make stools softer if your little one is constipated.

Try to vary the veggies you serve, because different colors tend to have different micronutrient compositions. For example, carrots contain beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. When it comes to fruits and vegetables: eat the rainbow!

Keep in mind that fruits and veggies tend to be low in calories, so you may have to add extra high calorie foods if you or your health care provider are concerned about your child’s growth.


Grains are important sources of fiber, B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate), and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and selenium. Iron helps to carry oxygen in the blood, which is important for brain development. B vitamins are important because they help the body break down components of proteins, fat, and carbohydrates. B vitamins also help our nervous system to function properly.

When searching for foods in the grain category, look for “whole grains”. You can get creative with whole grains and offer things like oatmeal, barley, popcorn, whole wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, et cetera!

Protein & Healthy Height

Protein tends to be the trickiest category. Some picky eaters tend to not like foods which are hard to chew, such as meat, so getting your little one to eat protein-rich foods can be a struggle. Protein options can include meat (chicken, beef, pork), fish, shrimp, tofu, beans, eggs, cheese, + yogurt.

Luckily, there are also options beyond traditional meats and vegetarian protein options. On those days your child eats less or your fridge is light on protein options, a shake mix like Healthy Height is a nutritious option.

Healthy Height is a whey protein-based shake mix developed by pediatricians. Not only does it have 12g of protein, it’s clinically shown to support children’s height and growth with the proper combination of protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It’s free of most major allergens and one of the lowest in sugar options (Vanilla and Chocolate only have 3g of organic cane sugar added, and Plain has no added sugar!).

What I’m most excited about is the fact a serving is only 4 oz. of liquid. This means a child won't get too full to finish the other food on their plate, so they’re able to work through their picky eating and establish a good relationship with food.

Summary & Meal Example

Try your best to get the 3 main components offered at every meal, but don’t stress if your child is more interested in one food over another. You’ve done your part by offering the meal, now it’s up to them to eat it.

Here’s a quick and yummy breakfast example: a bowl of oatmeal (grain) with some sliced strawberries (fruit) and a cup of milk or yogurt mixed with Healthy Height. Et voila! You have built a healthy plate for your little one.