Government Guidelines on Healthy Eating & Nutrition for Children

Government nutritional guidelines are in place to guide healthy food selections for parents and children. Meeting nutritional requirements for children is important for proper physical, emotional and cognitive development. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 provide nutrition recommendations for young children, adolescents and adults 1.


In developed countries such as the United States, overweight and obesity are just as much a concern as malnutrition. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 32 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are either overweight or obese. A BMI, or body mass index, percentile calculator for children is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to help determine if your child is at a healthy weight. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, children with a BMI at less than the fifth percentile are considered underweight and children at the 85th percentile or above are considered overweight or obese 1.


Calorie requirements for children vary based on factors such as age, gender and activity level. Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, moderately active children require about 1,000 to 1,400 calories for 2- and 3-year-olds, 1,400 to 1,600 calories for 4- to 8-year-olds, 1,600 to 2,000 calories for 9- to 13-year-old girls, 1,800 to 2,200 calories for 9- to 13-year-old boys, 2,000 calories for 14- to 18-year-old girls and about 2,400 to 2,800 calories per day for 14- to 18-year-old boys 1. These calorie recommendations are estimate and are likely higher for active children and lower for sedentary children.


The Food and Nutrition Board has established minimum recommended dietary allowances, or RDAs, for carbohydrate consumption in children 2. The RDA for carbohydrates is 130g per day for children ages 1 and up. For infants, adequate intakes, or AIs, for carbohydrate consumption are 60g per day for infants zero to 6 months of age and 95g per day for infants 7 to 12 months of age.


The Food and Nutrition Board RDA for protein is 11g per day for infants 7 to 12 months old, 13g for children 1 to 3 years old, 19g for children 4 to 8 years old, 34g for children 9 to 13 years old, 46g for girls ages 14 to 18 and 52g per day for boys ages 14 to 18 years old 2. The protein AI for infants ages 0 to 6 months old is 9.1g per day.


AIs for fat are available for infants and are 30g per day for infants 0 to 6 months of age and 31g of fat per day for infants 7 to 12 months of age. For children, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming diets consisting of 30 to 40 percent of calories from fat for 1- to 3-year-olds and 25 to 35 percent of daily calories from fat for 4- to 18-year-old children 1.