nutrition for kids

Childhood obesity is at an all-time high. It can be difficult for parents to prepare the proper diet for their children due to a lack of time, information, or resources. This guide is designed to provide you with the child nutrition information you need. You should not feel discouraged or guilty if you have struggled to provide your child with a proper nutrition. What is important now is that you’re here and you’re trying to provide your child with a better, more informed diet.

Before you learn which foods are best for children, this guide will teach you good eating habits kids should follow and how to ingrain these behaviors into a child’s eating routine. If your goal is to learn how to provide a healthy nutrition to a picky child or how to get an underweight child to gain weight, then this guide will be helpful for you as well. A healthy nutrition benefits all kids and can help children lose, maintain, or even gain weight.

Whether you think your child is underweight or overweight, it’s imperative you know how a child’s BMI (or body mass index) is calculated. It is also important to know the controversy surrounding calculating children’s BMI and the flaws of the practice. A child’s weight and child nutrition are sensitive topics, but conversations surrounding them must be had. This guide will prepare you for topic concerning the nutrition of your child or children, so keep reading and choose to be informed.

Eating Habits for Children

Good Eating Habits

Good eating habits for children include:

  • Understanding moderation
  • Discerning the best times of day for eating meals and certain foods
  • Knowing when to stop eating

Above three good eating habits are simple and important, but some parents, though well-meaning, have a habit of teaching their children poor eating habits due to inexperience or being taught poor eating habits themselves. 

Poor Eating Habits and It's Affect

When you were a child, were you ever told you couldn’t leave the table unless you ate everything on your plate? The command is often followed by a cal to be more grateful since their are children in Africa starving. This is a common way parents teach their kids poor eating habits. Forcing a kid to eat everything on their plate forces a child to bypass their body’s signals that it’s full. This can lead them to struggle with food moderation. 

Eating in Moderation

Why and How of Teaching Kids to Eat in Moderation

Parents can teach children how to eat in moderation by feeding their kids proper portion sizes and by not banning “bad” foods. Banning unhealthy foods and sweets is typically done by concerned parents, but that behavior can lead to the child having cravings and eating those foods in excess when without parental guidance. Teaching kids how to eat in moderation shows them how to eat foods they love healthily.

Does Eating in Moderation Only Apply to “bad” Foods?

It is important to eat any food in moderation. Though fruits and vegetables are healthy, they still contain calories. Too many calories, regardless of which food they come from, is still too many calories, ditto for carbs.

Though some carbs and sugars are healthier than others, they still need to be moderated. Eating a lot of sugar-rich fruit can be more detrimental to a child’s health than eating a moderate amount of cake and ice cream.

What Should a Child Eat?

Now that we understand the importance of good eating habits, what should a child eat? In short, whatever foods they like. Again, moderation is what is key. The long answer, however, is that a kid should eat foods that are nutritious and less-processed. Better yet, a child should eat food that is not processed at all. Since a lot of fast foods and frozen meals available in a store are highly processed, the best way to feed children unprocessed foods is by cooking them homemade meals.

Healthy Foods

The foods that are healthy for kids are low-calorie, low-carb, vitamin-rich fruits, high-protein meats, beans, or vegetables, and nuts and seafoods rich in dietary fats like omega-3 fats.

All fruits and vegetables aren’t equal, some are healthier than others. When feeding fruits and vegetables to your children, opt for fresh or frozen produce. Canned goods, while cheap, are often filled with additional syrups or juices that compromise the health of the foods.

Healthy Fruits


One of the healthiest fruits. They are rich in body-positive vitamins and minerals and can also help reduce insulin levels.


Rich in healthy vitamins and nutrients. Eating them also cleans teeth and minimize bad breath.


Berries are all high in antioxidants and vitamins while being low in calories.


Low in carbs and rich in healthy fats that promote better heart health. Avocados are loaded in potassium and fiber.

Healthy Vegetables


Rich in vitamin A and vitamin K. They are rich in antioxidants that reduces one’s chances of chronic diseases including cancer as well as calcium.


Rich in cancer risk-preventing antioxidants and vitamins A, K, and C. Carrots are also rich in potassium.

Sweet Potatoes

Loaded with vitamin A and also have fiber, potassium, and protein.


Full of vitamin k, vitamin C, and potassium. Eating broccoli can also prevent chronic diseases.

Best Sources of Protein

Egg Whites

High in protein without high cholesterol that yolk has.

Fish or Meat

Fish like salmon or tuna are a great source of protein. Skinless Chicken is also a great source of protein and has a lower amount of cholesterol than chicken with skin.

Beans or Legumes

Rich in protein and fiber. Research shows that eating them with every meal can help prevent cancer.


Great source of protein for children who aren’t allergic. They make for a good healthy snack.

Fastest Way to Lose Weight For Kids

The fastest way for a child to lose weight is to alter their diet and increase their physical activity. The best way to alter a child’s diet is to provide them with healthy and nutritious meals. The child’s physical activity doesn’t have to be typical exercise, it can be something fun like playing a game of chase or catch. The kid could also join a fun dance class or a local recreational sports team for children.

Talk with your child’s pediatrician to discuss any changes to their diet or physical activity.

Get a Picky Child to Eat

First, figure out why they are being picky. Kids are often picky not because they don’t like the food being offered, but rather because they want more control. Children don’t have much control in their lives, but they can control whether or not they eat. The best way you can get your picky eater to eat is to involve them in the process of creating or choosing their food. Offer them a selection of food choices you want them to choose from and let them make the final decision. 

My Child Is a Picky Eater and Just Doesn’t Like Many Foods

If your child is a picky eater because they genuinely don’t like many foods. Try to figure out what it is about the foods that turn them off. Sometimes it’s their texture other times it may be their taste. If their texture is the reason, try to include that food in their meals in a way that changes it texture.

For example, a child may claim to not like cheese, but maybe they just don’t like shredded cheese, but will eat melted cheese just fine.

My Child Doesn’t Like the Taste of Foods

If it’s the taste of foods that your child has a problem with, then try to hide the taste of foods in your child’s meals. For example, a child may dislike spinach or other vegetables when they’re served to them as a side on a plate, but love spinach or other vegetables when served to them in a delicious fruit and vegetable smoothie.

YouTube and cooking websites are full of yummy and healthy fruit and vegetable-rich smoothie recipes that a picky eater may love.

Why Else May a Child Be a Picky Eater and How Else Can I Get Them to Eat?

A child refusing to eat certain foods may also be psychological rather than having anything to do with the taste or texture of the food. For example, have you ever ate something that was good but once you found out what was in it, you suddenly didn’t like it? I have.

One way you may be able to get your child to eat is to not tell them what they are eating. You’d be surprised what meals they may suddenly enjoy once you stop telling them what is in them.

Is My Child Eating Enough?

The best way to know whether your child is eating enough is by checking their weight. Parents sometimes worry their child isn’t eating enough because their children vary in the amount of food they eat. This is normal, and your child just may not be as hungry for some meals as they are for others. As long as your child is a healthy weight for their height and physical activity while also receiving the appropriate amount of daily nutrients, your child is eating enough. 

Food Portions for Kids

Teen girls and teen boys have different eating needs. Teen girls should eat the same portions as school-aged kids, and teen boys (especially those involved in sports) should eat four servings of fruit, five servings of vegetables, eleven servings of whole grains, two to three servings of dairy or calcium-rich greens, beans, or legumes, and three servings (7 ounces) of protein.

Since teenagers are more independent and are more capable of getting less healthy foods when not supervised, sugar intake should especially be limited for teens while at home.

Food Portions Servings



Whole Grains

Calcium-Rich Beans, Greens, or Legumes


Toddler or Preschooler

2 Servings

3 Servings

6 Servings

2 - 3 Servings

2 Servings (5 Ounces)

School-Aged (7-12)

3 Servings

4 Servings

9 Servings

2 - 3 Servings

2 Servings (6 Ounces)

Teenage Boy

4 Servings

5 Servings

11 Servings

2 - 3 Servings

3 Servings (7 Ounces)

Teenage Girl

3 Servings

4 Servings

9 Servings

2 - 3 Servings

2 Servings (6 Ounces)

Increasing Child’s Weight

If your child is underweight due to night eating enough food, try to increase their portion sizes, especially carbs like pasta or starchy vegetables (potatoes, for example). If your kid refuse to or cannot eat larger portion sizes, then serve them more high-calorie foods that are also high in nutrition like foods full of healthy carbs or fats, and foods that are high in protein.

Adding healthy fats likes nuts and seeds to meals can help your child gain weight without them having to eat more food than they can handle.

How Many Calories Should a Child Eat?

How many calories children should eat depends on their height, age, weight, and level of activity.

Calories Intake

2 - 3 yrs

4 - 8 yrs

9 - 13 yrs

14 - 18 yrs


1,000 - 1,400

1,400 - 2,000

1,800 - 2,600

2,200 - 3,200


1,000 - 1,400

1,200 - 1,800

1,600 - 2,200

1,500 - 2,400


2 - 3 yrs

4 - 8 yrs

9 - 13 yrs

14 - 18 yrs


1,000 - 1,400

1,400 - 2,000

1,800 - 2,600

2,200 - 3,200


2 - 3 yrs

4 - 8 yrs

9 - 13 yrs

14 - 18 yrs


1,000 - 1,400

1,200 - 1,800

1,600 - 2,200

1,500 - 2,400

Is My Child Overweight? How Is It Calculated?

Whether a child is overweight is determined by calculating their BMI or Body Mass Index. There are some limitations to BMI calculators, however, since they don’t discriminate between muscle and fat when calculating weight. For this reason, someone who is highly active and muscular can be deemed “overweight” by a BMI calculator despite being physically fit and healthy.

Do not be discouraged if your child is labeled overweight by a BMI calculator. Consult a doctor for a better opinion on and assessment of your child’s weight.

How Do I Talk to My Child About Their Weight?

How you talk to your child about their weight could literally be the difference between life and death, so the conversation needs to be handled delicately. It is important that your child’s weight is discussed with them without judgement or insult, and they need to know that they have you in their corner to support them.

Avoid discussing appearance when talking with your child about their weight, and instead shift the conversation towards their health.

Parents Need to Have a United Front When Talking About Weight to Their Child.

It is important that parents are on the same page before the conversation about weight begins with their child. It is also imperative that parents do not play the blame game with one another or their child about any weight issues.

That will only add stress and guilt to the situation which will be counterproductive and may lead to the child eating more, or worse, in a disordered manner.

Eating Disorders Can, and Often Does, Begin in Childhood.

It is not uncommon for children to suffer from an eating disorder. The catalyst for their disordered eating can be due to low self-esteem stemming from weight issues, a feeling of lacking control in their lives due to their parents divorcing or them losing someone they love, or it can be due to social pressures coming from friends, coaches, or even parents.

Eating disorders are also inheritable. Children with a relative who has an eating disorder are 7 to 10 times more likely to have one than a child without a relative with an eating disorder.

Eating Disorder Warning Signs For Children

Some of the early signs your child may be suffering with an eating disorder are tantrums or a stark change in their behavior or attitude, excessive bowel movements, delayed puberty, and weight loss.

Additional signs your child may have an eating disorder are refusing to eat or reducing food portions, thinning hair, excessive worrying about body image, and lacking growth.

Children who have a developed eating disorder may have constipation or digestion issues, and they may hide or hoard food.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is one of the most common eating disorders that children experience. This eating disorder can be confused for picky eating since a major symptom of this disorder is children only refusing to eat certain foods or foods with particular textures.

Children with this disorder may complain of being afraid of stomach aches or throwing up due to swallowing certain foods, even foods they once enjoyed.

Children With Anorexia Nervosa Obsess Over Their Food Intake.

Boys and girls can suffer from anorexia nervosa, though it is most common in girls. A symptom children with anorexia often have is the urge to exercise tirelessly. Fitness and counting calories becomes an obsession for children with anorexia.

Children with anorexia may binge eat then purge, and when this behavior is taken to extremes, it can develop into bulimia.

How Do I Lower My Child’s Risk of Having an Eating Disorder?

Though it isn’t entirely known what causes eating disorders in children, there are some known things parents can do to lower their child’s risk of having one. The best thing a parent can do to help their child avoid an eating disorder is to teach them how to have a healthy relationship to food. This includes showing them how to eat foods in moderation and teaching them that food isn’t bad.

Talking about your child’s weight and their body positively can also lower their risk of having an eating disorder.

Things to Remember

Providing a proper nutrition to your child can seem like an insurmountable task, especially if you have limited resources or knowledge about child nutrition. children need to have a great relationship to food in order to avoid being overweight or developing an eating disorder. The best way you can help your child have a healthy relationship with food is by leading by example and eating in moderation.

For those of you with little picky eaters, you now know that your child may be refusing to eat certain foods because they want to have some control over what they eat and be involved in the process of selecting their food. You now also know that it could be the result of them having avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

Serving proper portion sizes is a critical component of providing your child a balanced diet. Be sure to use this guide to remind you of what your child should eat and how much of it they need.

Remember, children can suffer from eating disorders too, and conversations about weight should be handled with TLC (tender loving care). Refer to your child’s pediatrician about any concerns about their weight and be sure to inform them of any changes to your child’s diet or exercise regime.

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