How Many Calories Should a Child Be Eating?

Girl eating lunch at kindergarten
young girl eating apple (Image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images)

Kids need plenty of calories on a daily basis to grow and develop properly -- but children who eat too many calories, especially those who are inactive, are at risk for childhood obesity. Your child’s individualized calorie needs are based on age, gender and activity level. Ask your pediatrician to track your child's growth to make sure he’s growing at an appropriate pace compared to other children the same age.

Ages 2 to 3

strawberry girl
young girl eating strawberries (Image: Valeri Thoermer/iStock/Getty Images)

Kids ages 2 to 3 often need 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day. While many 2-year-olds generally require about 1,000 calories per day, 3-year-old girls need about 1,000 to 1,400 calories and 3-year-old boys often require 1,200 to 1,400 calories daily to grow at a healthy pace, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. If your young child is active, she usually needs more calories than a sedentary child would -- and should aim for the upper end of the Dietary Guidelines’ recommended calorie range.

Ages 4 to 8

Girl holding ear of corn
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Because 4- to 8-year-old boys are often bigger than girls within the same age range, they generally require more calories as well. Active 4- to 8-year-old children need more calories than their inactive counterparts. For example, girls ages 4 to 8 often need 1,200 calories daily if they are sedentary, 1,400 to 1,600 calories if they are moderately active and 1,400 to 1,800 calories a day if they are regularly active. Also, 4- to 8-year-old boys generally need 1,400 calories when they’re sedentary, 1,400 to 1,600 calories if they are moderately active and 1,600 to 2,000 calories daily when they are active, notes the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Ages 9 to 13

Girl Eating Cereal for Breakfast
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A child within the age range of 9 to 13 often needs 1,400 to 2,600 calories per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest that 9- to 13-year-old girls require 1,400 to 2,200 calories per day, while boys within the same age range usually need 1,600 to 2,600 calories daily to maintain healthy body weights, depending on how active they are. To help ensure your child is eating an appropriate number of calories, ask your pediatrician to chart his growth pattern on a growth chart.

Overweight Kids

Kids and woman doing exercises with balls
children exercising in aerobics class (Image: Nagy-Bagoly Ilona/iStock/Getty Images)

If your child is overweight or obese, focus on boosting physical activity rather than reducing calorie intake, suggests the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The NHLBI also recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as playing sports or swimming, daily. However, if your child is obese and has an obesity-related health condition, ask your pediatrician if a medically-supervised weight-loss diet is appropriate.

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