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Children's Nutritional Needs

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Donna Ricketts

Donna Ricketts is a health educator with 15 years of professional experience designing health and wellness programs for adults and children.

Children often have their own nutritional needs as they are still growing and need the most nutrients at their age. Learn more about the caloric requirements for preschoolers, school-aged children, daily diet recommendations, suggested servings and healthy eating habits. Updated: 11/03/2021

Nutrition for Kids

Nutrition for kids is very much the same as nutrition for adults. Everyone needs the same types of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. However, children need different amounts of specific nutrients at different ages.

Throughout elementary school, children's nutritional needs will fluctuate due to growth spurts and big appetites and periods where growth slows and appetites decrease. Understanding preschoolers' (3-4 years of age) and school-age children's (5-11 years of age) nutritional demands can help promote healthy growth while meeting energy and nutrient requirements.

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  • 0:50 Caloric Needs
  • 1:31 Food Choices
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Caloric Needs

The number of calories a preschooler and school-aged child needs depends on their age, gender, and level of physical activity. Generally, the more active the child, the more calories they need to take in to replace the calories burned during playtime, recess, sports activities, or other exercise.

Preschoolers need somewhere around 1,000 to 1,400 calories a day while school-age children need roughly 1,400 to 2,000 calories a day. If children are very active, their caloric intake can be in the upper range, and if they are fairly inactive, it should be in the lower range.

Food Choices

Preschoolers are watching and learning from parents with regards to food likes and dislikes, so it's important for parents to be good role models. Let your child see you cook, eat, and enjoy a variety of healthy foods, as well as see your willingness to try new foods.

Elementary school is a time where many food habits, likes, and dislikes are established. This is also an excellent time for parents to teach their children about what makes up a healthy diet and why eating a variety of foods is important for good health.

Preschoolers' and school-aged children's daily diet should be composed mostly of calories from complex carbohydrates (for energy) and lean proteins (to build muscle) and no more than 35% of calories should come from fat. Parents should encourage children to choose a variety of foods from the five major food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy.

Use these suggested servings as a guide and allow your child to decide when she or he is full. Children should not be forced to eat everything on their plates.

Preschoolers' nutritional needs:

  • Vegetables - 1 1/2 to 2 cups
  • Fruits - 1 to 1 1/2 cups
  • Grains - 4 to 5 ounces
  • Meats & beans - 3 to 5 ounces
  • Dairy - 2 to 2 1/2 cups
  • Fats & sweets - Limit as much as possible

School-aged children's nutritional needs:

  • Vegetables - 2 cups
  • Fruits - 1 1/2 cups
  • Grains - 5 to 6 ounces
  • Meats & beans - 5 ounces
  • Dairy - 3 cups
  • Oils - 4 teaspoons
  • Fats & sweets - Limit as much as possible

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