How Much Does My Kid Need to Eat?

Use this age-by-age guide to find out the amount of food your child should be eating -- and how to create healthy habits for a lifetime.

From Day 1, we worry about our kids getting enough to eat -- yet with the childhood obesity rate at 17 percent, we also fret that they'll get too much. What's the right amount? To cut through the confusion, nutrition experts help ed compile this guide of just how much kids need at each age, plus tips on how to stay on track. Follow their advice -- and your child's weight will be one concern you can cross off your list.

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

AGES 1-3 Feeling Finicky

Daily Calorie Needs 1,200 - 1,400

Remember that baby of yours who happily ate chicken, squash, and most anything else that landed on his high-chair tray? He's been replaced -- by someone a lot less agreeable at mealtime. After your baby's first year, growth slows down by about 30 percent, and so may appetite. Infants need to eat about 35 to 50 calories per pound, while toddlers require roughly 35 to 40 calories per pound, according to guidelines from the Institute of Medicine. How do you know if you're hitting that target?

TRUNCK ARCHIVE

  • Trust toddler instincts. It's natural for a 2-year-old's appetite to be erratic from day to day. Yet according to a study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, up to 85 percent of parents say they push their kids to eat more, giving them rewards and praise for having a couple more bites. Believe your child when she pushes her plate away or tells you she's full. Otherwise, she'll eventually start to eat when she's not hungry -- and that's a slippery slope. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania found that many overweight and obese 5- to 12-year-olds have lost touch with their own hunger cues. "Keeping a child aware of her hunger and fullness may go a long way to help prevent obesity," says study author Tanja Kral, Ph.D. are just too busy to eat -- after a few bites, they're hopping down from the table to play. It's okay to have healthy munchies (such as bite-size veggies, fruit, cheese, and whole-grain crackers) within arm's reach during playtime, but serve most meals and snacks at the table so eating there becomes a habit, says Dina Rose, Ph.D., a sociologist in Hoboken, New Jersey, who specializes in children's eating habits.
  • Stick to a schedule. Serve meals and snacks about three hours apart. "This helps keep your child at a healthy weight by 'normalizing' hunger," says Jill Castle, R.D., author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School. A child who's always nibbling will never feel hungry. Plus, if your child skimps at one meal, you'll both know there's another opportunity to eat in a few hours.
  • Avoid food bribes. Yes, you'll get the short-term gain of a few bites of peas or chicken, but you're telling your child to eat more than she wants -- which can set her up for a pattern of overeating. You're also sending the wrong message about food. "If kids think that vegetables are just the yucky stuff you have to eat to get to the good stuff, they'll never learn to really like them," says Rose.

AGES 1-3 Sample Menu

Serve meals with 1/2 cup of low-fat milk; switch to water if your child is still thirsty. Have water or 100% fruit or vegetable juice at snacktime. Don't exceed 6 ounces of juice daily.

breakfast
Oatmeal (1/2 cup mixed with 1 tsp. brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon)
1/2 banana sliced

lunch
Bean-and-cheese quesadilla (1 6" whole-wheat tortilla with 1 tbs. fat-free refried beans and sprinkled with 2 tbs. shredded cheese)
1/4 cup chunky salsa for dipping

dinner
1 oz. grilled chicken
1/2 cup roasted sweet potatoes
1/2 cup steamed broccoli (toss with 1/4 tsp. olive oil and 2 tsp. Parmesan cheese)

snacks
1/2 cup low-fat flavored yogurt with 1 whole-grain waffle cut into strips 1/2 apple, sliced, with a piece of string cheese

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