How Many Calories Does My Child Need?

how many calories does my child need

One of the common questions I get from parents is “How many calories does my child need?” With 1 in every 3 children overweight and almost 2 in every 5 children obese in the United States, this is a legitimate question. Obviously there are quite a few children who are consuming more calories than they need.

No two children need the same number of calories in a given day. Factors such as activity level, stress, growth rate, and baseline metabolism vary. We as Pediatricians carefully measure caloric outcome when we plot height, weight, and head circumference at a well child check. Our goal is for each child to maintain a BMI (calculated by weight (cm) divided by height (m) squared) somewhere between the 5th and 85th percentile.

We can use a child’s weight to in kilograms to give you a target number of calories per day per age bracket. In general, the older the child, the lower the ratio of calories per kilogram of body weight needed. To figure out how much your child weighs in kilograms, divide each pound by 2.2.

Age:Caloric Need:
Newborn to 3 months100 calories per kilogram per day
3 months to 3 years90-100 calories per kilogram per day
3 years to 8 years80-90 calories per kilogram per day
8 years to 12 years60-80 calories per kilogram per day
12 years to 16 years45-60 calories per kilogram per day

These are ranges. For children who are underweight (BMI below 5%) or overweight (BMI above 85%) more or fewer calories should be consumed respectively). You can calculate your child’s BMI here.

Here is a sample calculation. My son is 3 years old and weighs 40 pounds. His weight in kilograms is 18 (40/2.2). His BMI  is at the 50%. He needs approximately 1440 to 1620 calories/day to maintain his current BMI percentile.

For many American children eating a typical American diet, it is quite easy to overshoot the number of recommended calories. For example: one hamburger, contains 350 calories, a soda contains 182, and a medium serving of french fries 365 calories. That’s 897 calories or 50-60% of total calories needed at just one meal! If at breakfast they already had a 205 calorie pop tart and 73 calorie snicker bar washed down with another 182 calorie soda the recommended caloric limits have been reached in just two meals.

As long as your child is following a BMI curve between 5% and 85%, you don’t need to worry about calorie counting. In fact, it could be harmful. If, however, your child is under or overweight, setting an approximate caloric parameter might be appropriate. This must be done in conjunction with your doctor and possibly a nutritionist as it is important to make sure your child is getting adequate vitamins and minerals, protein, fat, and fiber.



[1] “How Many Calories Does Your Child Need to Grow? | Christopher Johnson M.D. PICU Author.” Accessed December 28, 2015.

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Rachel Nelson MD

graduated from Loma Linda University and completed a pediatric residency at UC Davis. She has a passion for helping children reach their full potential. She is married to a colorectal surgeon and together they have two children: Amy and Michael. Dr. Nelson enjoys playing outside with her kids, gardening, and music.

  1. Hi I need help with my girl she’s 5 years old an she’s so picky eating I need some help maybe some advice,cooking books. Maybe.etc.thank you

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