Kids' Nutrition: Healthy Diet Guidelines

Nutrition for children isn't quite as easy as simply "scale down adult nutrition." Kids do need the same nutrients, vitamins, and minerals as adults, but the amount they need of each is different based on what age they are. This is compounded by the fact that some children are picky and won't eat everything you ask them to, so you must have nutrients from a wide variety of resources to ensure that your child gets the nutrition they need.

It's important to put emphasis on eating from the different food groups for children: protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. For protein, meat is not the only option: A child may also enjoy nuts, eggs, beans, or even tofu. Fruits can be eaten fresh, canned, frozen, or dried; a frozen cherry may seem like a piece of candy rather than a fruit to a child. Be careful with fruit juices, as many have a great deal of added sugar and not many nutrients at all. Vegetables can also be eaten in all forms, but not every vegetable has the same nutrients. It's vital to serve many different kinds of vegetables to make sure your child is getting the best nutrition possible. Grains should be consumed in whole-grain form, such as whole-wheat bread or brown rice. Pasta and white bread are acceptable in small amounts but in general should be avoided. Dairy products such as lowfat milk, yogurt, and cheese are also an essential part of a child's diet. Helping children avoid added sugar and saturated and trans fats is also very important. Not all sugar is added sugar; for example, fruit contains sugar, but it isn't added sugar. Saturated fats generally come from animal products, such as red meat and full-fat milk. Unsaturated fats may come from nuts or avocados and are far healthier.

While these are general guidelines, it's important to speak to your child's doctor during an appointment to be certain you're meeting your child's specific needs. Your doctor can help you adjust your child's diet to suit their development as well as give you advice on what to give your child that they will eat.

Ages 2 to 3

Depending on your child's size and activity level, their caloric intake should be 1,000 to 1,400 calories per day at this age. They should be consuming 2 to 4 ounces of protein, 1 to 1.5 cups each of fruits and vegetables, 3 to 5 ounces of grains, and 2 cups of dairy on a daily basis.

Ages 4 to 8 (Girls)

At this age, a female child should be eating 1,200 to 1,800 calories per day, including 3 to 5 ounces of protein, 1 to 1.5 cups of fruit, 1.5 to 2.5 cups of vegetables, 4 to 6 ounces of grain, and 2.5 cups of dairy. This is where boys and girls begin to diverge in nutrition.

Ages 4 to 8 (Boys)

A boy of this age needs 1,200 to 2,000 calories every day. This should consist of 3 to 5.5 ounces of protein, 1 to 2 cups of fruit, 1.5 to 2.5 cups of vegetables, 4 to 6 ounces of grain, and 2.5 cups of dairy.

Ages 9 to 13 (Girls)

At this age, requirements for girls and boys begin to diverge greatly. Girls should be eating 1,400 to 2,200 calories every day, consisting of 4 to 6 ounces of protein, 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit, 1.5 to 3 cups of vegetables, 5 to 7 ounces of grain, and 3 cups of dairy.

Ages 9 to 13 (Boys)

Boys begin to need significantly more food at this stage. They should be consuming 1,600 to 2,600 calories per day. This should be made up of 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein, 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit, 2 to 3.5 cups of vegetables, 5 to 9 ounces of grain, and 3 cups of dairy.

Ages 14 to 18 (Girls)

At this point, girls are growing into young women, and their caloric needs are similar. They should eat 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day, consisting of 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein, 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit, 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables, 6 to 8 ounces of grain, and 3 cups of dairy.

Ages 14 to 18 (Boys)

Similarly, boys are nearly young men at this point and have similar nutritional needs to adult men. They need 2,000 to 3,200 calories per day, including 5.5 to 7 ounces of protein, 2 to 2.5 cups of fruit, 2.5 to 4 cups of vegetables, 6 to 10 ounces of grain, and 3 cups of dairy.


Written by

Tomas Hoyos


Tomas is the co-founder and CEO of Voro, the healthcare social network where people share doctor recommendations with their friends and neighbors. Tomas loves a good book and mostly writes about current events in healthcare and tips to stay healthy. Prior to co-founding Voro, Tomas was a healthcare investor and investment banker. Tomas is a graduate of Harvard University where he majored in Government.