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What Is the Recommended Caloric Intake for Children?

By Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.

Getting adequate calories helps children grow and develop at a normal pace. In fact, consuming too few calories and being malnourished can decrease growth rates in children -- and may even lead to permanent stunted growth. According to MedlinePlus, malnutrition in children can cause fainting, hair loss, fatigue, dizziness and weight loss. Your child’s suggested daily calorie intake depends on his age, gender and activity level.

Ages 2 to 3

As children age, boys generally need more calories than girls. However, at ages 2 and 3 calorie guidelines don’t differ between boys and girls. Children ages 2 to 3 generally require about 1,000 to 1,400 calories daily to grow and develop at a normal pace. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, sedentary kid ages 2 to 3 need about 1,000 to 1,200 calories daily, while moderately active and active children within the same age range require 1,000 to 1,400 calories a day.

Ages 4 to 8

Active boys ages 4 to 8 require slightly more calories daily than girls within the same age range. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 estimate that 4- to 8-year-old boys and girls need 1,200 to 1,400 calories a day if they are sedentary, and 1,400 to 1,600 calories daily if they’re moderately active -- while active 4- to 8-year-old boys need 1,600 to 2,000 calories each day and active girls within the same age range generally require 1,400 to 1,800 calories daily.

Ages 9 to 13

Children ages 9 to 13 require 1,400 to 2,600 calories daily, depending on their gender and activity level. For example, 9- to 13-year-old girls need 1,400 to 1,600 calories daily if they are sedentary, 1,600 to 2,000 calories if they are moderately active and 1,800 to 2,200 calories a day if they are regularly active -- while boys within the same age range require 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day if they are sedentary, 1,800 to 2,200 calories if they’re moderately active and 2,000 to 2,600 calories daily if they are active on a regular basis, note the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.

Calories per Pound

Since each child has unique characteristics -- such as his size and weight -- that contribute to his daily calorie needs, estimates provided by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 do not always apply to every child. For example, child athletes may have calorie needs even higher than those of active children. Using your child’s body weight helps estimate his individualized calorie needs. According to Hasbro Children’s Hospital, kids ages 1 to 7 often require 34 to 41 calories per pound of body weight daily, children ages 7 to 12 need about 27 to 34 calories per pound and kids age 12 to 18 often require 13 to 27 calories for each pound of their body weight daily. Exceptions may occur in overweight and obese children.

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