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Eating healthy and staying active


It's important for growing children to eat healthy foods and get regular exercise.

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Healthy foods are important for growing children. Make sure your child eats a well-balanced diet. They need more calories during times when they’re growing fast. The number of calories they need slowly increases as they near puberty.

It’s also important for children to get regular exercise and stay active. This helps them:

  • Grow normally 
  • Build strength and endurance
  • Build strong bones and muscles
  • Gain key motor skills
  • Stay at a healthy weight
  • Have good overall health and well-being

Eating healthy 

Give your child several healthy food choices.


Getting the right calories for healthy growth

It’s important to know how many calories your child should eat for the best energy and balance. Children should not be on diets that limit calories unless told to do so by your pediatrician. 

This chart shows the average number of calories children ages 2 to 18 should have each day. The numbers are based on their gender and how active they are.

Suggested daily calories for children 2-18 

AgeGenderNon-activeSomewhat activeActive
2–3Male or female1,0001,0001,000
4–8Male 1,200-1,4001,400-1,6001,600-2,000
9–13Male 1,600-2,0001,800-2,2002,000-2,600
14-18Male 2,000-2,4002,400-2,8002,800-3,200

Suggested food amounts from each food group

Food group1,000 calories1,200 calories1,400 calories1,600 calories1,800 calories2,000 calories
Fruits1 cup1 cup1 ½ cups1 ½ cups1 ½ cups2 cups
Vegetables1 cup1 ½ cups1 ½ cups2 cups2 ½ cups2 ½ cups
Grains3 ounces4 ounces5 ounces5 ounces6 ounces6 ounces
Protein2 ounces3 ounces4 ounces5 ounces6 ounces6 ounces
Dairy2 cups2 ½ cups2 ½ cups3 cups3 cups3 cups


Food group2,200 calories2,400 calories2,600 calories2,800 calories3,000 calories3,200 calories
Fruits2 cups2 cups2 cups2 ½ cups 2 ½ cups 2 ½ cups 
Vegetables3 cups 3 cups3 ½ cups 3 ½ cups 4 cups4 cups
Grains7 ounces 8 ounces9 ounces10 ounces10 ounces10 ounces
Protein6 ounces6 ½ ounces6 ½ ounces7 ounces 7 ounces 7 ounces
Dairy3 cups 3 cups3 cups3 cups3 cups3 cups

Picky eaters

Most children go through times when they don’t like eating a lot of different foods. The good news is that this usually doesn’t hurt their overall health. Plus, they usually grow out of this stage. 

It’s normal for children’s eating habits to change. They may not need or want as much food during stages of slow growth. Their tastes also change. 

The best advice is to give your child all types of foods and several choices. You don’t need to worry as long as your child is gaining the right amount of weight for their age. 

The right amount of weight is about four to seven pounds per year when eating a variety of healthy foods. If you are worried, talk to your pediatrician. 


FAQ about staying active 

Children and teens should get least 60 minutes of exercise every day. Sometimes it helps to break the 60 minutes into shorter periods throughout the day. Young children should not be inactive for long periods during the day.

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  • This depends on how active your child is. If they are not very active, start slowly and build up. Things you can do together include riding bikes, walking around the neighborhood, jumping rope, dancing and playing tag. 

  • Parents are key when it comes to getting children to be more active. Help your child find something they enjoy doing. If your child likes it, he or she will probably want to do it more often. 

    Studies show that habits learned early lead to a healthier adult life. It’s never too late to form healthy habits. Talk to your pediatrician about how to get started. 

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