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Energy In: Recommended Food & Drink Amounts for Children

How Many Calories Do Children Need?

No child should be on a calorie-restricted diet, unless recommended by the doctor. However, parents need to be aware of their children's calorie needs so that they can help their children maintain energy balance.

Step 1: The chart below can give you a general idea of how many calories your child needs per day based on his or her age range, gender, and physical activity level. Walking to school is an example of being moderately active. Playing a game of basketball is an example of being vigorously active.


Step 2: After you find out how many calories your child needs, use the chart below to help you plan how much food from each food group to serve each day.


Keep in mind that if your child consumes extra calories beyond what is needed the calories need to be burned off with extra physical activity. Extra calories can quickly add up depending on what your children eat or drink.

For example, if your child eats or drinks an extra 100 calories each day beyond his or her calorie needs and does not burn off the extra calories, that's an extra 700 calories each week, an extra 2, 800 each month (4 weeks), or an extra 36,500 calories each year.

Step 3: Ask your child's doctor if you have any questions. Remember, these 2 charts are only a guide and each child's needs are different.

How Much Food Do Children Need?

Remember that each child's energy needs are different. For instance, your child may need more energy during growth spurts or active participation in sports. It's not necessary to eat the exact total amounts from each group every day. Rather, intake should average out over a period of 1 to 2 weeks, to ensure healthy intake of calories along with essential nutrients.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the following daily amounts for each food group based on different calorie needs. These are only guidelines. Another resource from the USDA and Agricultural Research Service is a Kid Energy Needs Calculator.

Additional Information:

Last Updated
Energy In Energy Out: Finding the Right Balance for Your Children (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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