Nutrition Guidelines for Children

Children over two need to consume enough calories to sustain periods of rapid growth. Pay special attention to ensuring proper intake of calcium (for growing bones) and iron (to prevent anemia). Whereas children under two should not restrict their fat intake, older children can be started on a diet low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates, the same as for a healthy adult. Keep these points in mind:

  • Fat intake should be no more than 30 percent of the total calories, with less than 10 percent of daily calories coming from saturated fat.
  • Cholesterol intake should not exceed 300 milligrams a day.
  • The average daily diet for a child under 12 should include low-fat dairy products, few meats, and should offer plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • The total calorie count should be adjusted to your child’s growth rate so as to maintain a desirable body weight.

Cardiologists generally agree that limiting a child’s fat intake from age two onward will help reduce the odds of eventually developing coronary heart disease. Although symptoms of heart disease seldom become manifest before middle age, damage to the coronary arteries begins to appear in early childhood.

It is estimated that 5 percent of all children 5 to 14 years old in the United States have blood cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dl. (All children at high risk—those with a parent who develops any form of cardiovascular disease before age 55 or a parent who has high blood cholesterol that is not controllable by diet—should have a cholesterol test.)

Try to limit sugary snacks, and teach children to stop eating when they are full. But avoid disputes over food. If a child doesn’t want to eat the meal provided, don’t force the issue. You can help ensure proper nutritional intake by offering a variety of healthy food choices, not by urging—or forcing—a child to eat something.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 24 Aug 2010

Last Modified: 06 Nov 2014