How many calories should a child eat to lose weight? There’s no denying that being a child in this day and age is difficult. With societal pressures from social media, video games and inactivity, it’s no wonder that childhood obesity is on the rise and more prevalent than ever. To lose weight, your body needs energy to function. It gets the energy it needs from the calories in food and beverages that you take in.
This means if you cut down on the number of calories that you take in, you’ll lose weight. The importance of child nutrition is quite significant. If a child does not have proper nutrition, it may cause serious long-term consequences.
How Many Calories Should A Child Eat To Lose Weight
An increasing number of kids are overweight, and if no intervention is made, 80% of them will stay overweight as adults. This can put them at risk for many medical problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and sleep apnea. Obesity can also adversely affect their self-esteem.
While most children should not be put on a severely restricted diet, weight management by a combined approach of a sensible diet and regular exercise will help to control their weight gain.
Daily Caloric Needs by Age
Children normally need a certain number of calories each day (energy allowance) that their bodies use as energy for normal daily activities (walking, breathing, etc.).
As with adults, the daily caloric needs of a child depend on their sex, age, and activity level.
It is recommended that moderately active boys consume around:
- 6 to 8 years old: 1,600 calories per day
- 9 and 10 years old: 1,800 calories per day
- 11 years old to 13 years old: 2,200 calories per day
- 14 to 17 years old: 2,400 to 2,800 per day
For girls who are moderately active, the ranges are:
- 7 to 9 years old: 1,600 calories per day
- 10 and 11 years old: 1,800 calories per day
- 12 to 17 years old: 2,000 calories per day
These are only estimates. Some children will need more calories or fewer calories in a day depending on their metabolism and daily activities.
Energy and Fat Storage
When someone consumes more food and calories than is required by their energy allowance, the excess calories are converted to fat for storage.
Conversely, when someone consumes fewer calories than is required by their energy allowance, their body fat is converted to energy for the needed calories.
You can think of this relationship in terms of an equation:
Energy Stored (Fat) = Energy In – Energy Used
A child can lose weight by either eating fewer calories each day or getting more activity so that their body uses up more calories to provide the needed energy.
Either way, body fat is burned and converted to energy, which results in weight loss.
Often, it’s a combination of dieting (eating less) and exercising (moving more) that allows someone to achieve sustainable, healthy weight loss.
Dietary Recommendations for Healthy Children
AHA Scientific Position
Start in Infancy:
- Breast-feeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for about the first 4–6 months after birth. Try to maintain breast-feeding for 12 months. Transition to other sources of nutrients should begin at about 4–6 months of age to ensure sufficient micronutrients in the diet.
- Delay introducing 100 percent juice until at least 6 months of age and limit to no more than 4–6 oz/day. Juice should only be fed from a cup.
- Don’t overfeed infants and young children — they can usually self-regulate the amount of calories they need each day. Children shouldn’t be forced to finish meals if they aren’t hungry as they often vary caloric intake from meal to meal.
- Introduce healthy foods and keep offering them if they’re initially refused. Don’t introduce foods without overall nutritional value simply to provide calories.
The American Heart Association recommends this eating pattern for families:
- Energy (calories) should be adequate to support growth and development and to reach or maintain desirable body weight.
- Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
- Keep total fat intake between 30 to 35 percent of calories for children 2 to 3 years of age and between 25 to 35 percent of calories for children and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
- Choose a variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients.
- Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight for your height and build. Kids should be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day.
- Serve whole-grain/high-fiber breads and cereals rather than refined grain products. Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the food label and make at least half your grain servings whole grain. Recommended grain intake ranges from 2 oz./day for a one-year-old to 7 oz./day for a 14–18-year-old boy.
- Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, while limiting juice intake. Each meal should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable. Children’s recommended fruit intake ranges from 1 cup/day, between ages 1 and 3, to 2 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy. Recommended vegetable intake ranges from ¾ cup a day at age one to 3 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy.
- Introduce and regularly serve fish as an entrée. Avoid commercially fried fish.
- Serve fat-free and low-fat dairy foods. From ages 1–8, children need 2 cups of milk or its equivalent each day. Children ages 9–18 need 3 cups.
- Don’t overfeed. Don’t overfeed. Children shouldn’t be forced to finish meals if they aren’t hungry as they often vary caloric intake from meal to meal. Consult your health care professional for your child’s specific caloric needs.
This eating pattern supports a child’s normal growth and development. It provides enough total energy and meets or exceeds the recommended daily allowances for all nutrients for children and adolescents, including iron and calcium.
If your child is overweight or obese, helping them get to a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for them now and in the future. But what’s the right way to do it? That usually depends on your child’s age.
There’s no single number on the scale that all kids must reach to be healthy. The right range depends on how tall they are, their gender, and their age. In fact, many children shouldn’t actually lose weight — they should just maintain it as they grow taller or put on pounds more slowly. But if they have more severe obesity, espeically if they have obesity-related health conditions, your child’s pediatrician may make a different recommendation.
How can you tell if your child needs to slim down? Talk to their health care provider. They can help you come up with a safe plan. Also, some expert advice may help you know what to focus on to help your child reach a healthy weight, no matter their age.
Ages 1 to 6
Goal: In most cases, kids at these ages should stay at the same weight or gain it at a slower rate. If the child has more severe obesity, their doctor may have other advice.
What you can do: When kids are very young, you’re in charge of their routine. Make sure your child’s day includes plenty of time — at least 60 minutes — to be active, whether it’s climbing the jungle gym at the park, playing tag in the backyard, or jumping around in the living room. They don’t have to get their exercise all at once. Short bursts of activity throughout the day that add up to an hour are just fine.
At meal and snack times, offer them a variety of nutritious choices. Your child — and the whole family — can eat healthier with a few simple steps:
- Cut back on processed and fast foods. They tend to be higher in calories and fat. Instead, fill your child’s plate with fruits and vegetables, and trade white bread, rice, and pasta for their whole-grain versions. They have fiber, which can help your child feel full for longer. If your kid isn’t a fan of these changes at first, don’t give up. Research shows that children are more likely to eat something after they’ve seen it on their plates a few times.
- Don’t serve sugary drinks. Swap soda, juice, and sports drinks for water and skim or low-fat milk.
- Encourage good eating habits. Three meals and two snacks a day can keep your child from getting too hungry, which make them less likely to overeat.
- Make small changes. Overhauling your family’s diet all at once can leave your child upset or confused. Start with a few changes each week. “Talk with your child about the choices you make,” says Mollie Greves Grow, MD, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Explain that some foods give them more energy to play
Behaviors to Modify
It is also important to modify the behaviors that led your child to become overweight. These behaviors may prevent weight loss or encourage weight to be regained.
Behaviors you’ll want to modify include:
- Limiting Television: you should limit television viewing to about one or two hours each day (this includes playing video games or using the computer). Watching television doesn’t use up many calories and it encourages eating unhealthy foods and unhealthy habits.
- Healthy Eating Habits: your child should eat three well-balanced meals of average size each day, plus two nutritious snacks. Discourage skipping meals (especially breakfast).
- Snacks: you should limit snacks to two each day and they can include low-calorie foods, such as raw fruits or vegetables. Avoid using high calorie or high-fat foods for snacks, especially chips, cookies, etc.
- Drinking: you should encourage your child to drink four to six glasses of water each day, especially before meals. Water has no calories and it will help you to feel full. Other drinks can include diet sodas and low-fat milk. Avoid letting your child drink regular soft drinks or fruit juices, as they are high in calories (150-170 calories per serving).
- Diet Journal: help your child to keep a weekly journal of food and beverage intake and also of the amount of time that is spent watching television, playing video games and exercising.1 You can also record your child’s weight each week (but do not weight your child every day).
Calories and Serving Sizes
It is not necessary to count calories, but you and your child should become more educated about the foods you eat and how many calories they contain. You should begin to routinely check the nutrition label of the foods that your family is eating.
You want to try and eat foods low in calories and also low in fat. Be careful of low fat or “diet” foods, as they can still be high in calories even though they are low in fat.
Check the serving size of prepared meals and snacks. A serving of chips may only have 200 calories, but if the serving size is only 10 chips, eating the entire bag would be over 1,000 calories just for a snack.
Some eating habits that will help your child lose weight include:
- Healthy Meals. Your child needs three well-balanced meals of average size each day. Prepare foods that are baked, broiled, or steamed, rather than fried in fat. A healthy meal can include a small serving of lean meat and a large serving of vegetables.
- Single Servings. Avoid serving seconds of the main course or dessert. If your child is still hungry, encourage them to have more salad or vegetables.
- Desserts. Serve fresh fruit as a dessert. Ice cream, cookies, cake, or other high-calorie foods should be treats, not frequent staples.
- Grocery shopping. Stock up on low-calorie and low-fat meals, snacks, and desserts. Choose low-fat or skim milk and diet drinks. Avoid stocking your pantry with high-calorie desserts or snacks, such as snack chips, regular soft drinks, or regular ice cream.
- Eat at the table. Avoid letting your child eat meals or snacks outside of the kitchen or dining room. You might want to make it a house rule that no one eats while watching TV.
- Avoid Fast Food. Limit high-fat, high-calorie trips to the drive-thru. If you’ll be traveling or having meals outside your home, pack healthy options.
Importance Of Child Nutrition
Making sure that children eat a balanced and nutritious combination of food is an essential part of their development. Children are constantly growing, and they need the right nutrients to help them maintain a healthy weight, recover quickly from illness, build up strong bones and muscles, and keep up their energy levels. Poor nutrition can cause a range of health problems such as obesity, asthma, high cholesterol and heart disease, as well as learning difficulties and low self-esteem.
What should children be eating?
Children need to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups every day. This means:
●plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
●wholegrain breads, cereals, rice and pasta
●healthy sources of protein such as lean fish, eggs, nuts and poultry
●milk, yoghurt and cheese
Children also need to stay well hydrated, so only offer water rather than soft drinks or fruit juice. Junk food and takeaway should be consumed only as an occasional treat.
How to establish healthy habits
You can encourage good nutrition by offering your children plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable options every day. If they don’t like raw vegetables, you can try steaming or grilling them to make them more appetising. Frozen fruits can also be provided if you’re running low on fresh fruit or in hot weather as a substitute for highly sweetened icy poles or ice-cream. Be a good role model for your child by making sure that you always make healthy choices, and get the whole family involved in healthy eating. Make breakfast part of the morning routine, eat meals together at the table, and avoid using junk food as a reward or a comfort.
Children need a calcium-rich diet to support bone development and reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life. The best way to make sure children get their recommended calcium intake is to give them three serves of dairy food every day. Each serve could be a glass of milk, a tub of yoghurt, or two slices of cheese. Making sure children get enough calcium will ensure their bones reach their optimal strength.
2. Dental health
Tooth decay is still a common health problem for many children in Australia. It’s important to establish good dental hygiene routines as early as possible, but good nutrition and eating habits can also help prevent gum problems like gingivitis. Dairy foods play an important role in maintaining good dental health as they provide children with calcium, phosphorus and the milk protein “casein”.
3. Physical activity
Proper nutrition should be supported by a healthy, active lifestyle. Encourage children to be active and find physical activities that they enjoy. Playing outside for an hour every day can help children maintain a healthy weight and general wellbeing. Try to limit your child’s screen time and encourage more physical forms of play.