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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 

Age Gender Non-active Somewhat active Active
2–3 Male or female 1,000 1,000 1,000
4–8 Male  1,200-1,400 1,400-1,600 1,600-2,000
Female 1,200-1,400 1,400-1,600 1,400-1,800
9–13 Male  1,600-2,000 1,800-2,200 2,000-2,600
Female 1,400-1,600 1,600-2,000 1,800-2,200
14-18 Male  2,000-2,400 2,400-2,800 2,800-3,200
Female 1,800 2,000 2,400

Suggested food amounts from each food group

Food group 1,000 calories 1,200 calories 1,400 calories 1,600 calories 1,800 calories 2,000 calories
Fruits 1 cup 1 cup 1 ½ cups 1 ½ cups 1 ½ cups 2 cups
Vegetables 1 cup 1 ½ cups 1 ½ cups 2 cups 2 ½ cups 2 ½ cups
Grains 3 ounces 4 ounces 5 ounces 5 ounces 6 ounces 6 ounces
Protein 2 ounces 3 ounces 4 ounces 5 ounces 6 ounces 6 ounces
Dairy 2 cups 2 ½ cups 2 ½ cups 3 cups 3 cups 3 cups


Food group 2,200 calories 2,400 calories 2,600 calories 2,800 calories 3,000 calories 3,200 calories
Fruits 2 cups 2 cups 2 cups 2 ½ cups  2 ½ cups  2 ½ cups 
Vegetables 3 cups  3 cups 3 ½ cups  3 ½ cups  4 cups 4 cups
Grains 7 ounces  8 ounces 9 ounces 10 ounces 10 ounces 10 ounces
Protein 6 ounces 6 ½ ounces 6 ½ ounces 7 ounces  7 ounces  7 ounces
Dairy 3 cups  3 cups 3 cups 3 cups 3 cups 3 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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