Are You Meeting Your Child’s Special Calorie and Nutrition Needs?

Grilled steak with fresh vegetables and herbs

Special Calorie and Nutrition Needs of Children

If you and your doctor have determined that your child is overweight or obese, you definitely need to take some steps to help your child reduce his or her weight so that he or she can avoid potential future health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.  In addition, your child will be able to live a healthier and more enjoyable life if he or she is able to lose weight while he or she is still a child or teenager.

In order to help your child to maintain a healthy weight, you must make sure that he or she is eating a proper diet.  Children who are 2 years of age and older should have a diet that is made up largely of vegetables and fruits, low-fat and non-fat dairy products, beans, fish, lean meat, and whole grains.  Besides providing the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals your child needs to become strong, this diet will help to keep your child from ingesting too much saturated and trans fat, as well as too much cholesterol and sugar.1

The Micronutrients Your Child Needs for a Strong Body

Your child needs essential nutrients as his or her body develops and grows.  Some of the most important micronutrients that are needed to ensure that your child develops into a strong individual physically include the following:

  • Sodium
  • Fiber
  • Total fat
  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium

How much your child needs of these micronutrients will greatly depend on both the age and gender of your child.  The greatest variation is in the amount of calories your child needs, with boys requiring more calories than girls because boys typically have larger body masses and weight than girls do.

However, because there is a variation in the amount of calories boys need compared to girls, there will also be variations in the amount of carbohydrates, proteins, total fat, and fiber as well because those are all percentages of the daily calories that a child consumes, so as the daily calories number fluctuates, so will those statistics as well.

For instance, the following table that compares the needs of boys and girls between the ages of 14 to 18 years of age2:

Ages 14-18 Calories Protein Carbohydrates Total Fat Fiber
Boys 2,000-3,200 10-30% (range of 50-150g for avg of 2,000calories per day) depending on daily calories & exercise level 45-65% (range of 225-325g foravg 2,000 calories per day) 25-35% (range of 56-78g for 2,000 calories per day) 28-45g day – depending on daily calories & exercise level
Girls 1,800-2,400 10-30% (range of 45-135g for 1800 calories per day) 45-65% (range of 203-293g for 1800 calories per day) 25-35% (range of 50-70g for 1800 calories per day) 25-34g day – depending on daily calories & exercise level

This will also vary for children who are younger since their body masses aren’t as developed as those children 14 to 18 years of age, hence making the amounts they need less, though the percentages of protein, carbohydrates, and total fat remaining the same throughout.

Sugar-Sweetened Juices and Drinks Are a Major Culprit For Gaining Weight

Improving your child’s eating habits and what he or she likes to eat is not always easy.  In fact, it can be quite difficult if your child is a very picky eater, and especially if what he or she picks to eat is unhealthy for him or her. If parents do not buy the unhealthy foods in the first place, the children can not pick them.  To improve his or health and weight issues, you must find new and creative ways to get him or her to eat a healthier diet.

One of the major challenges to getting your children to have healthier diets is to reduce the sugar-sweetened juices and drinks that many children love to drink.  Even 100% fruit juices have tons of sugar in them, making them unhealthier than you might imagine.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children get no more than one cup of juice per day. Some parents are note that juices are a good source of vitamins, which is true. However, a well balanced diet will supply those vitamins as well without including the extra calories of the juices. Excluding sugary drinks can be a great jump-start to helping your child losing excess weight.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that Americans are consuming millions of gallons of sugary sodas, sports drinks, and high-caffeine energy drinks.  Unfortunately, teenage boys drink the most of these drinks, which is a likely factor in why 18% of all Americans aged 12-19 are considered obese.4

Many young people drink such sugary drinks to “pick them up” when they are feeling low on energy to help them carry on throughout their busy days with school, extracurricular activities, and homework.  By finding other sources of energy and “pick-me-ups,” such as high-energy, complex carbohydrate foods, like peanut butter and cereals without much sugar in them, you can help to lessen the amount of sugary drinks they drink to boost their energy levels.

Ways to Improve Your Child’s Dietary Intake and Eating Habits

To help improve your child’s dietary intake, consider the following tips:

  • Use more healthy cooking oils instead of solid fats when preparing your child’s meals, including sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and canola oil
  • Use only the recommended portion sizes that are listed on food labels when preparing your child’s meals
  • Introduce fish into your child’s meals, as this can provide helpful nutrients and Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Remove the skin from poultry such as chicken and turkey before serving
  • Use lean cuts of meat and other reduced-fat meat products in your recipes
  • Reduce the amount of high-calorie sauces, including Alfredo, cream, and cheese sauces (when do you serve them, always serve them on the side, never on the entree itself)
  • Introduce more whole-grain breads and cereals to gain more healthful nutrients

Some additional tips on improving your child’s eating regimen:

  • Remove the junk food from your house – they can’t eat what’s not there
  • Try to provide your kids with more variety when serving them meals, as this can help to peak their interest on eating healthier (such as introducing pineapple, cranberries, and yellow and red peppers into your meals)
  • Substitute frozen yogurt, frozen fruit bars, and fat-free pudding to help satisfy their sweet tooth without ruining their diets with added sugar.
  • Eliminate or reduce juices from their diet

By Focusing on Eating Healthier, You Can Help Your Child To Lose Excess Weight and Maintain a Healthy Weight

Taking the time to ensure that your children are eating healthier meals and consuming less sugar can make a considerable difference in their ability to lose weight and to keep it off.  By instilling healthy eating habits in your children at an early age, they’ll be more likely to adopt and maintain those eating habits throughout their lives, making it more likely they’ll remain at a healthy weight and limiting their chances of contracting deadly diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.


1 Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents. (2011). From American Heart Association: circ.ahajournals.org/content/112/13/2061.full

2  Nutrition for kids: Guidelines for a healthy diet – MayoClinic.com. (2011, July 16). From Mayo Clinic: www.mayoclinic.com/health/nutrition-for-kids/NU00606

3 Americans Getting Too Many Calories From Sugary Drinks: CDC. (2011, August 31). From MedlinePlus – National Institutes of Health

4 FASTSTATS – Overweight Prevalence. (2010, June 18). From Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.htm


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