How Many Calories Do Kids Need?

Obesity in kids has reached epidemic levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 18.5% of children and adolescents in the United States are obese. That's as many as 1 in 5 children. Research indicates that more than half of obese children will be obese in adolescence, and upwards of 80% of adolescents will continue to be obese as adults.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that 41% of children are either overweight or obese and that the prevalence is higher among Black and Hispanic children. Lack of physical activity and poor nutrition have contributed to the rise in overweight and obese children, but many children are also genetically predisposed to weight gain. This, combined with getting too many calories and not enough exercise, can lead to obesity.

Overview

Do you know how many calories your kids need each day? Although you usually shouldn't have to count calories each and every day, it can be helpful to track how many calories your child is getting from the things they're eating and drinking over a few days or weeks and then compare it to their actual daily caloric needs.

This is especially important if your child is already overweight. It's also crucial that your child is getting their calories from nutrient-dense whole foods rather than processed foods high in calories, sodium, and saturated fat, which can contribute to weight gain.

If you find that your child's intake of calories is much below or above standard recommendations, it can be helpful to consult your pediatrician and/or a registered dietitian to get some help planning a more healthy, balanced diet for your child.

Fortunately, it is easy to figure out and calculate how many calories your kids need each day.

How to Make Calorie Calculations for Kids

A young girl eating healthy vegetables

Kelly Sillaste / Getty Images

You may be concerned because your child is a picky eater and you think they may not getting enough calories. Or, you may worry that your child eats a lot and is getting too many calories.

Understanding how many calories your child actually needs might help you worry a little less. It might also help you avoid overfeeding your child, as it's common for parents to overestimate how many calories their kids need and get.

To calculate how many calories a child needs each day, you just need to know their:

  • Age (older kids need more calories than younger kids)
  • Sex (boy or girl)
  • Activity level (is the child physically active or a couch potato?)

Use these charts to calculate your child's daily calorie needs.

Moderately Active Boys

The estimated daily calorie needs for moderately active boys aged 2–18 include:

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 11 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 12 years: 2,200 calories/day
  • 13 years: 2,200 calories/day
  • 14 years: 2,400 calories/day
  • 15 years: 2,600 calories/day
  • 16 years: 2,800 calories/day
  • 17 years: 2,800 calories/day
  • 18 years: 2,800 calories/day

What does it mean to be moderately active? Some good definitions include:

  • Being moderately active 60 minutes a day, at least five days a week, for six out of eight weeks
  • Having at least 12,000 daily activity steps on a pedometer

What counts as ​a moderate physical activity for toddlers and preschoolers? It includes structured and unstructured physical activity.

Moderately Active Girls

The estimated daily calorie needs for moderately active girls aged 2–18 include:

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 11 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 12 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 13 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 14 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 15 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 16 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 17 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 18 years: 2,000 calories/day

Some good examples of girls who are moderately active include those who are:

  • Moderately active 60 minutes a day, at least five days a week, for six out of eight weeks
  • Have at least 10,000 daily activity steps on a pedometer

What counts as a moderate physical activity for toddlers and preschoolers? It includes structured and unstructured physical activity.​

Boys Who Are Not Active

The estimated daily calorie needs for boys aged 2–18 who are not active include:

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 11 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 12 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 13 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 14 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 15 years: 2,200 calories/day
  • 16 years: 2,400 calories/day
  • 17 years: 2,400 calories/day
  • 18 years: 2,400 calories/day

Boys who aren't active don't do any moderate or vigorous physical activity or any activity outside the activity of day-to-day living.

For example, walking from the car to the front door of the school and from class to class is just part of the physical activity of your child's average day. However, if they ride a bike to school, that would probably count toward being active.

Whether your child is overweight or at a healthy weight, encourage them to be active, as it is a good healthy habit for everyone.

Girls Who Are Not Active

The estimated daily calorie needs for girls aged 2–18 who are not active include:

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 11 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 12 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 13 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 14 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 15 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 16 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 17 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 18 years: 1,800 calories/day

Whether your child is overweight or at a healthy weight, encourage her to be active, as it is a good healthy habit for everyone.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood Obesity Facts. Prevalence of Childhood Obesity in the United States. Updated February 11, 2021.

  2. Simmonds M, Llewellyn A, Owen CG, Woolacott N. Predicting adult obesity from childhood obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysisObes Rev. 2016;17(2):95-107. doi:10.1111/obr.12334

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Ninth Edition. December 2020.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity At A Glance. Updated January 22, 2020.

  5. Kumar S, Kelly AS. Review of childhood obesity: from epidemiology, etiology, and comorbidities to clinical assessment and treatmentMayo Clin Proc. 2017;92(2):251-265. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.09.017

  6. Costa CS, Rauber F, Leffa PS, Sangalli CN, Campagnolo PDB, Vitolo MR. Ultra-processed food consumption and its effects on anthropometric and glucose profile: A longitudinal study during childhoodNutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2019;29(2):177-184. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2018.11.003

  7. Tudor-Locke C, Craig CL, Beets MW, et al. How many steps/day are enough? for children and adolescentsInt J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2011;8:78. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-78

  8. Baranowski T. Increasing physical activity among children and adolescents: Innovative ideas neededJ Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(1):1-5. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.011

Additional Reading