Because children, especially young children, require proper nutrition daily to grow and develop at an appropriate pace, severely restricting an overweight child's calorie intake is generally not a good idea -- unless your doctor recommends it. Encourage your child to eat a variety of healthy foods throughout the day while boosting his daily calorie expenditure to gradually move toward a healthier weight. The goal is not necessarily weight loss but a slower rate of weight gain during periods of growth.
The number of calories your overweight child should consume daily depends on his age, gender and activity level. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests that for healthy weight maintenance, kids ages 2 to 3 require 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day; girls ages 4 to 8, 1,200 to 1,800 calories; boys ages 4 to 8, 1,400 to 2,000 calories; girls ages 9 to 13, 1,600 to 2,000 calories; and boys ages 9 to 13, 1,800 to 2,600 calories per day. Overweight children should also stick within these general calorie guidelines -- but boost their physical activity level.
Sample Meal Plans
The publication "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" provides sample healthy meal plans at various calorie allotments. A 1,200-calorie meal plan includes 1.5 cups of veggies, 1 cup of fruits, 2.5 cups of dairy foods, 3 ounces of protein foods, 4 ounces of grains, 4 teaspoons of oils and 121 extra calories. An 1,800-calorie plan contains 2.5 cups of veggies, 1.5 cups of fruits, 3 cups of dairy foods, 5 ounces of protein foods, 6 ounces of grains, 5 teaspoons of oils and 161 extra calories -- from foods of your child's choice -- each day.
Reasonable Portion Sizes
Portion sizes vary by food group. For example, 1 ounce from the protein foods group may include 1 ounce of meat, poultry or seafood, one egg, 1/4 cup of tofu, 1/2 ounce of nuts or 1/4 cup of legumes. A 1-ounce equivalent of grains equals 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, one slice of bread or 1/2 cup of oatmeal, rice or pasta, notes ChooseMyPlate.gov. A 1-teaspoon portion size of oils equals 1/3 ounce of nuts, eight large olives, 1.5 teaspoons of nut butter, one-eighth of an avocado, 1 tablespoon of Italian salad dressing or 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil.
Physical Activity Recommendations
If your overweight child is sticking within general calorie guidelines, encourage him to boost his physical activity level. The "2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans" suggests children and teens engage in at least one hour of physical activity each day. Abiding by this recommendation will help your overweight child slowly move toward a healthier body weight, without severely restricting calories. Try swimming, going for walks or playing tag with your child. Enroll him in a child exercise class, take him to a children's gymnasium or trampoline park, or sign him up for a sports league to keep his activity level high and increase his strength and lean muscle mass.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Balance Food and Activity
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent in the Protein Foods Group?
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent of Grains?
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: How Do I Count the Oils I Eat?
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans