Our primary parenting job is making sure our children grow and thrive. In order to grow and thrive, we need to provide our children with the nutrients they need to build strong bodies. But what do children need and how does that change by age?


Calories are the energy our body uses to operate. Every person’s body is different, burns calories at different rates, and uses energy differently. Therefore, you cannot determine a perfect number of calories a person needs, just an approximation.

The calories a person needs also changes based on activity level. The more active a person is, the more calories their body will need

Age and growth also change calorie needs. During growth spurts, particularly during puberty, the number of calories a person needs increases. Puberty in particular causes a large increase in calorie needs due to growth but also due to hormone production and brain development. In addition, during periods of slower growth, a child may eat less. It is normal for appetite to be varied and change day to day.

Calories come from carbohydrates, fat, and proteins that we eat.

girl eating apple


Carbohydrates are foods that fuel are body and help protect muscle tissue from breaking down. Each gram of carbohydrate gives your body 4 calories of energy. Carbohydrates can be found in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. Fiber is important for our body as it helps with stooling, helps a person feel full, lowers cholesterol, prevents heart disease, lowers the risk of diabetes, and lowers the risk of some cancers.

Fiber is found in fruits, veggies, grains, and beans. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can dissolve in water. Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and improves blood sugar control. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It helps with stooling and preventing constipation.

A good estimate for how much fiber a child should get is to add 5 to their age. Therefore, a 2-year-old will need 7 grams of fiber (2 years plus 5 grams equals 7 grams) where as a 10 year old will need 15 grams of fiber (10 years plus 5 grams equals 15 grams).


Proteins are foods that provide the building blocks of our body. Every gram of protein gives your body 4 calories of energy. Protein-rich foods include poultry, pork, beef, fish, eggs, beans, and dairy foods.


Fats are foods that help build nerve tissues, make hormones, and are used as fuel in our body. Fats also are essential to absorb Vitamin A, D, E, and K. They give food flavor and texture. Each gram of fat gives your body 9 calories of energy. Fats can be found in 3 forms. Unsaturated fats are those found in avocados, olives, nuts, and fatty fish. Saturated fats are found in animal products including meat and dairy products as well as coconut oil. Tran saturated fats are found in commercial snack foods, baked goods, fried foods, and margarines. Unsaturated fats are the healthiest fats. Tran saturated fats should be avoided and saturated fats should be eaten in moderation.


The below are approximations of how many calories a child will need by age and broke down in fat, proteins, and carbohydrates. It further breaks carbohydrates down into fruits, veggies, and grains.

If a child is moderately active, they may need 200 more calories a day than listed in the chart below. For a very active child, they may need 200-400 extra calories a day. Active teens need up to 2200-3500 calories a day. Teen athletes will also need more protein in their diet.










1 year old


30-40% of diet

1.5 ounces

1 cup

¾ cup

2 ounces



30-35% of diet

2 ounces

1 cup

1 cup

3 ounces


4–8-year-old female


25-35% of diet

3 ounces

1.5 cups

1 cup

4 ounces



4–8-year-old male


25-35% of diet

4 ounces

1.5 cups

1.5 cups

5 ounces


9–13-year female


25-35% of diet

5 ounces

1.5 cups

2 cup s

5 ounces

9-13 old male


25-35% of diet

6 ounces

1.5 cups

2.5 cups

6 ounces

14–18-year-old female



25-35% of diet

5 ounces

1.5 cups

2.5 cups

6 ounces

14–18-year-old male


25-35% of diet

6 ounces

2 cups

3 cups

7 ounces


Do we need to be measure out ounces or cups of our kids’ food? Absolutely not! You can and should estimate! Some foods fit in more than one category and can be counted for both categories. Aim for your child’s plate to be filled 50% by fruits and veggies, then add protein and fat from there. Also make sure snacks include a fruit or veggie, fat, and protein.

When preparing food, make sure portion sizes are appropriate for your child’s age. For example, a serving of vegetables is

  • ¼ of a cup cooked from age 1-3
  • ¼ cup cooked to 1/2 cup raw from age 4-6
  • ½ cup cooked to 1 cup raw from age 7-10


In addition to calories, we need to make sure children are getting the essential vitamins and minerals needed for proper body functioning.


Iron is an essential mineral for growth and development. Iron helps blood carry oxygen around the body via hemoglobin. It is important for brain function, producing hormones, and keeping your immune system strong. If your body does not have enough iron, you can have

  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • frequent illnesses
  • difficulty concentrating
  • pale skin
  • lightheadedness
  • headaches
  • increased heart rate
  • think or brittle nails
  • fatigue during workouts

You can find iron in heme (animal) or non-heme (plant or fortified) sources. Our body can absorb both, but it is easier for our body to absorb heme-based iron. Non-heme iron absorption can be improved by eating it with a food high in Vitamin C. Iron can be found in beef, turkey, chicken, beans, spinach, molasses, wheat germ, fortified cereals, and tomato puree. Cooking with cast iron cookware can also help increase the iron level in foods.

Daily iron recommendations per day are:

Age 7-12 months: 11mg

Age 1-3 years: 7mg

Age 4-8 years: 10mg

Age 9-13 years: 8 mg

Menstruating teens: 15mg

Menstruating young adults: 18mg

Non-menstruating teens: 11mg

Non menstruating young adults: 8mg

Athletes may also need more iron than non-athletes. Teen athletes should aim for 3-4 servings of iron rich food daily.


Calcium is an essential mineral that helps to build bones and teeth, helps nerves and muscles function, helps blood clot, and regulates the beating of the heart. Calcium can be found in dairy products, calcium fortified non-dairy or plant-based milks (such as almond milk, soy milk, oat milk etc.), calcium fortified OJ, tofu, fortified cereals, salmon, kale, dark leafy greens, figs, and almonds.

Daily calcium recommendations per age are:

Age 1-3: 700mg

Age 4-8: 1000mg

Aged 9 -18: 1300 mg

It is very important for teens to get in proper amounts of calcium. By age 18, a person has already built up 92% of their bone mass. These are important years to help increase bone density.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it needs fats to be absorbed by our body. Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium in the gut. Vitamin D is needed for bone growth and remodeling. It helps to keep calcium and phosphate concentrations normal so that bones can be mineralized. Vitamin D also helps decrease inflammation and modulates cell growth, neuromuscular function, immune function, and glucose metabolism.

Vitamin D can be found in high levels in fatty fish and fish oils. It can be found in small amounts in beef liver, egg yolks, cheese, and some mushrooms. Fortified foods such as dairy products and non-dairy/plant-based milks as well as cereals, orange juices, yogurts, and margarine are common sources of Vitamin D. It can also be made in our body via Ultraviolet sun rays hitting our skin.

Daily Vitamin D recommendations per age are:

Under 1 year: 400 IU

1 and above: 600 IU


Potassium is a mineral that helps maintain fluid levels in our cells, helps transport waste out of cells and nutrients into cells. It is an electrolyte. It also helps muscle contraction and nerve function. It regulates our heartbeat. Potassium also helps prevent bone disease.

Most people can easily get all the potassium they need via their diet. Potassium is found in leafy greens, fruits that come from vines such as grapes, root vegetables, citrus fruits, and bananas. Dairy products also have potassium in them.

Daily potassium recommendations per age are:

Age 1-3: 3000mg

Age 4-8: 3800 mg

Age 9-13: 4500mg

Over age 13: 4700mg

Sodium Chloride (Salt)

Sodium, a mineral, helps maintain fluid levels outside our cells. It helps nerve and muscle function. Our kidney’s help balance sodium levels in our body. If unable to do that, it can lead to high blood pressure.

Sodium is naturally found in many foods but is also added to foods. Food high in sodium include breads with salted tops, soups, cold cuts, cured meats, snack foods, canned foods, frozen foods, salted nuts, processed cheeses, pizza, prepackaged mixes, olives, pickles, sauerkraut, and certain dressings/spices.

Most people, children included, get TOO much sodium in their diet. Over 90% of children get more sodium than is recommended daily. Daily Sodium LIMITS per age are:

Age 1-3: less than 1500mg

Ages 4-8: less than 1900mg

Ages 9-13: less than 2200mg

Ages 14-18: less than 2300mg

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is needed for vision and immune system function. Vitamin A also helps keep skin healthy. Vitamin A helps the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs function properly.

There are two types of Vitamin A. The Pre-formed type is found in fish, meat, poultry, and dairy products. The other type, pro-vitamin A, can be found in fortified cereals, fortified dairy products, mango, melon, apricots, green vegetables, and orange vegetables.

Vitamin A recommendations per age are:

Age 1-3: 300mcg

Age 4-8: 400 mcg

Age 9-13: 600 mcg

Age 14-18 females: 700mcg

Aged 14-18 males: 900mcg

Folate/Vitamin B-9

Folic acid helps form red blood cells and is needed for healthy cell growth and function. Folate also is needed for DNA and RNA production. It works with Vitamin B12 to help prevent anemia.

Folate is found in Greek leafy vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, citrus fruits, bananas, melons, avocados, romaine lettuce, and strawberries. Folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, is added to cereals and pastas.

Daily folate recommendations per age are:

Age 1-3: 150mcg

Age 4-8: 200mg

Ages 9-13: 300mg

Age 14-18: 400mcg

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps form red blood cells, aids in cell metabolism, nerve function, and producing DNA. Vitamin B12 can be found in poultry, meat, fish, and dairy products. It is also added to fortified cereals. Vitamin B12 deficiency is more commonly seen in vegetarian and vegan diets.

Daily Vitamin B12 recommendations per age are:

Age 1-3: 0.9mcg

Aged 4-8: 1.2 mcg

Aged 9-13: 1.8 mcg

Age 14-18: 2.4mcg

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential vitamin and antioxidant. It is needed for healthy bones, blood vessels, gums, and skin. It helps lower blood pressure, fights inflammation, and creates collagen. Vitamin C is also needed for healing. Vitamin C helps your body absorb and store iron.

Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, and red peppers.

You can get too much Vitamin C. The upper limits of daily Vitamin C recommendations per age are:

Age 1-3: less than 500mg

Age 4-8: less than 650mg

Age 9-13: less than 1200mg

Age 14-18: less than 1800 mg

Taking too much Vitamin C can result in diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramping, bloating, and abdominal pain. Too little vitamin C can result in scurvy. Scurvy causes anemia, bleeding gums, bruising, and poor wound healing.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is not a single vitamin but a family of vitamins. They are fat soluble vitamins so must be eaten with fat to be absorbed. It is also an antioxidant. Vitamin E helps protect cells and helps the body make red blood cells. It also helps protect skin and helps the immune system prevent infections.

Vitamin E is found in oils, including canola, wheat germ, and olive oil, margarine, almonds, peanuts, meats, dairy products, leafy greens, broccoli, peaches, salad dressings, and fortified cereals.

Vitamin E recommendations are similar to Vitamin C where an upper limit is given but this upper limit only applies to SUPPLEMENTS AND NOT FOOD. The upper limit of daily Vitamin E recommendations per age are:

Age 1-3: 200mg/300IU

Age 4-8: 300mg/450 IU

Age 9-13: 600mg/900IU

Age 14-18: 800mg/1200 IU         

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is another family of vitamins. Vitamin K is important for blood clotting and preventing excessive bleeding. Vitamin K is found in dairy products, leafy green vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, legumes, eggs, strawberries, and meat.

Daily Vitamin K recommendations per age are:

Age 1-3: 30mcg

Age 4-8: 55 mcg

Age 9-13: 60mcg

Age 14-18: 75mcg


It sounds like a lot of counting and worrying, but many foods have multiple nutrients in them. Focus on providing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins to your child at every meal and snack to ensure they receive all the nutrients they need. If you have concerns, your child is deficient in a certain nutrient or calories, please discuss with your provider or schedule a consult with our pediatric nutritionist.


Children’s Health Care of Newburyport, Massachusetts and Haverhill, Massachusetts is a pediatric healthcare practice providing care for families across the North Shore, Merrimack Valley, southern New Hampshire, and the Seacoast regions.  The Children’s Health Care team includes pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners who provide comprehensive pediatric health care for children, including newborns, toddlers, school aged children, adolescents, and young adults. Our child-centered and family-focused approach covers preventative and urgent care, immunizations, and specialist referrals. Our services include an on-site pediatric nutritionist, special needs care coordinator, and social workers. We also have walk-in appointments available at all of our locations for acute sick visits. Please visit where you will find information about our pediatric doctors, nurse practitioners, as well as our hours and services.



Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only.  You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.


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