Many parents that I see in the office ask me how many calories their children should be taking in. Their kids may be underweight and so they want to make sure that they are getting in enough calories. They may be overweight and need to restrict calories in order to maintain or lose weight. Even parents with average weight children may wonder if their child is eating enough or too much food. Understanding the calorie needs of a child can help parents understand their children’s changing appetites and how to help them achieve and maintain an ideal body weight.
One of the most common concerns I discuss with parent at the toddler well-child visits, even with families whose toddlers are growing well, is whether their children eat enough. Toddlers in general are not growing at quite the rapid rate as they were as infants, and so their appetites may not be as robust. In general most toddlers that are offered a variety of nutritious foods will find a way to take in enough calories and nutrients to grow.
Another very frequent concern is how a child can become obese when they seem to be eating mostly healthy, nutritious foods. Often the answer to this question boils down to calories. If a child takes in more calories than his or her caloric needs, then weight will increase.
The USDA just released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and in it, there is a great summary of calorie needs by age, gender and level of physical activity. The table below is adopted from those guidelines.
Estimated Calorie Needs per Day by Age, Gender and Physical Activity Level
The full USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines can be found at their website.