Dietary Recommendations for Healthy Children

Updated:Sep 10,2014

The American Heart Association has dietary recommendations for infants, children and adolescents to promote cardiovascular health:

AHA Scientific Position

Start in Infancy:

  • Breast-feeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for about the first 4–6 months after birth. Try to maintain breast-feeding for 12 months. Transition to other sources of nutrients should begin at about 4–6 months of age to ensure sufficient micronutrients in the diet.
  • Delay introducing 100 percent juice until at least 6 months of age and limit to no more than 4–6 oz/day. Juice should only be fed from a cup.
  • Don't overfeed infants and young children — they can usually self-regulate the amount of calories they need each day. Children shouldn't be forced to finish meals if they aren't hungry as they often vary caloric intake from meal to meal.
  • Introduce healthy foods and keep offering them if they're initially refused. Don't introduce foods without overall nutritional value simply to provide calories.

The American Heart Association recommends this eating pattern for families:

  • Energy (calories) should be adequate to support growth and development and to reach or maintain desirable body weight.
  • Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  • Keep total fat intake between 30 to 35 percent of calories for children 2 to 3 years of age and between 25 to 35 percent of calories for children and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
  • Choose a variety of foods to get enough carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients.
  • Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight for your height and build. Kids should be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day.
  • Serve whole-grain/high-fiber breads and cereals rather than refined grain products. Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the food label and make at least half your grain servings whole grain. Recommended grain intake ranges from 2 oz./day for a one-year-old to 7 oz./day for a 14–18-year-old boy.
  • Serve a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, while limiting juice intake. Each meal should contain at least 1 fruit or vegetable. Children’s recommended fruit intake ranges from 1 cup/day, between ages 1 and 3, to 2 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy. Recommended vegetable intake ranges from ¾ cup a day at age one to 3 cups for a 14–18-year-old boy.
  • Introduce and regularly serve fish as an entrée. Avoid commercially fried fish.
  • Serve fat-free and low-fat dairy foods. From ages 1–8, children need 2 cups of milk or its equivalent each day. Children ages 9–18 need 3 cups.
  • Don’t overfeed. Estimated calories needed by children range from 900/day for a 1-year-old to 1,800 for a 14–18-year-old girl and 2,200 for a 14–18-year-old boy.

This eating pattern supports a child's normal growth and development. It provides enough total energy and meets or exceeds the recommended daily allowances for all nutrients for children and adolescents, including iron and calcium.

Dietary Recommendations for Children Ages 1 to 3
  1 year 2 to 3 years  
Calories
kilocalories per day (kcal/d)
900 kcal/d 1000 kcal/d Calorie estimates are based on a sedentary lifestyle. Increased physical activity will require additional calories: by 0-200 kcal/d if moderately physically active; and by 200–400 kcal/d if very physically active.
Fat 30-40% 30-35%  
Milk / Dairy 2 cups 2 cups Milk listed is fat -free (except for children under the age of 2 years). If 1%, 2%, or whole-fat milk is substituted, this will utilize, for each cup, 19, 39, or 63 kilocalorie of discretionary calories and add 2.6, 5.1, or 9.0 grams of total fat, of which 1.3, 2.6, or 4.6 grams are saturated fat.

For 1-year-old children, calculations are based on 2% fat milk. If 2 cups of whole milk are substituted, 48 kilocalories of discretionary calories will be utilized. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that low fat or reduced fat milk not be started before 2 years of age.
Lean Meat and Beans 1.5 ounces 2 ounces  
Fruits 1 cup 1 cup Serving sizes are 1/4 cup for 1 year of age, 1/3 cup for 2 to 3 years of age, and 1/2 cup for children 4 years of age and older.
Vegetables 3/4 cup 1 cup Serving sizes are 1/4 cup for 1 year of age, 1/3 cup for 2 to 3 years of age, and 1/2 cup for children 4 years of age and older. A variety of vegetables should be selected from each subgroup over the week.
Grains 2 ounces 3 ounces Half of all grains should be whole.




Dietary Recommendations for Children Ages 4 to 18
  4 to 8 years 9 to 13 years 14 to 18 years  
Calories
kilocalories per day (kcal/d)
      Calorie estimates are based on a sedentary lifestyle. Increased physical activity will require additional calories: by 0-200 kilocalories per day if moderately physically active; and by 200–400 kilocalories per day if very physically active.

For youth 2 years and older; adopted from Table 2, Table 3, and Appendix A-2 of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2005); http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines. Nutrient and energy contributions from each group are calculated according to the nutrient-dense forms of food in each group (eg, lean meats and fat-free milk).
Female 1200 kcal/d 1600 kcal/d 1800 kcal/d  
Male 1400 kcal/d 1800 kcal/d 2200 kcal/d  
Fat 25% to 35% 25% to 35% 25% to 35%  
Milk / Dairy 2 cups 3 cups 3 cups Milk listed is fat free (except for children under the age of 2 years). If 1%, 2%, or whole fat milk is substituted, this will utilize, for each cup, 19, 39, or 63 kilocalories per day of discretionary calories and add 2.6, 5.1, or 9.0 grams of total fat, of which 1.3, 2.6, or 4.6 grams are saturated fat.
Lean Meat / Beans        
Female 3 ounces 5 ounces 5 ounces  
Male 4 ounces 5 ounces 6 ounces  
Fruits       Serving size is 1/2 cup for children 4 years of age and older.
Female 1.5 cups 1.5 cups 1.5 cups  
Male 1.5 cups 1.5 cups 2 cups  
Vegetables       Serving size is 1/2 cup for children 4 years of age and older. A variety of vegetables should be selected from each subgroup over the week.
Female 1 cup 2 cups 2.5 cups  
Male 1.5 cups 2.5 cups 3 cups  
Grains       Half of all grains should be whole.
Female 4 ounces 5 ounces 6 ounces  
Male 5 ounces 6 ounces 7 ounces  

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Last reviewed 09/2014

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AHA Recommendations for Physical Activity in Kids

The AHA Physical Activity Recommendations for Kids Infographic