What Are the Nutritional Needs of Children?

The nutritional needs of children vary depending on their age, sex, and physical activity level. Therefore, it's necessary to adapt their diet accordingly.
What Are the Nutritional Needs of Children?

Last update: 04 January, 2021

From the fourth year of life, children experience slow but steady growth. The nutritional needs that children have at this time vary depending on several factors. Therefore, it’s essential to know and take care of the nutritional needs of children to avoid deficiencies or imbalances.

What are the nutritional needs of children?

The WHO defines the term nutritional requirement as the amount of energy or nutrients needed to maintain not only health, but also growth and an appropriate degree of physical activity.

However, it’s more accurate to speak of recommended intakes. In other words, the “amount of energy and nutrients that, based on scientific knowledge, are judged adequate to meet the nutritional needs of the majority of the population.” These differ according to age and sex.

Energy needs

Caloric intake must be adequate according to a person’s age, level of physical activity, and state of body development. Important differences exist between children of the same age and sex. This is due to various factors among which genetics, developmental state, growth rate, health status, etc. stand out.

A small girl eating a salad and smiling.

For example, both a 2-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl need about 1000 kcal per day. On the other hand, an 11-year-old boy, if he’s sedentary, needs about 1,800 kcal, while, if he’s an athlete, about 2,200 kcal.

An approximation would be:

  • If the child’s between 4 and 6 years old, you could calculate calories by 200 kcal per kg of weight.
  • If he’s between 7 and 10 years old, about 150 kcl per kg of weight.
  • From the age of 11 onwards, differences are established in the contribution of calories according to sex.

Macronutrient requirements

Macronutrient recommendations for children are as follows:

  • 30-40% should come from fat. Within these, it’s advisable not to exceed 300 mg of cholesterol, 10% of energy in the form of saturated fat, essential acids; omega-6 between 5 and 10%, and omega-3 between 0.6-1.2%. It’s important to emphasize the recent recommendations of the FAO/WHO on the EPA+DHA intake of 0.10 to 0.15 g/day for children between two and four years old.
  • Proteins should be 2 g/lb per day, which is approximately equivalent to 19 g/day, providing from 5 to 20% of the total caloric value of the diet.
  • Carbohydrates, between 45-65% of their diet, which would be 130 g/day.

Important minerals

The most important minerals in childhood are:

  • Calcium: This mineral is essential for the formation and growth of the skeleton. An adequate supply of this mineral can prevent the onset of osteoporosis in adulthood.
  • Iron: Growing children need a significant amount of this mineral.
  • Other important minerals at this age are iodine and fluorine.
A family sitting down at the kitchen table eating a healthy meal and laughing together.

Recommendations for the nutritional needs that children have

To cover these nutritional requirements, it’s important to follow these guidelines in your children’s diet:

  • Milk intake as the main source of calcium. As well as dairy products, in general. However, their excessive consumption may not be adequate since, for example, drinking more than one liter per day would provide 700 kcal per day, which would mean that a single foodstuff would provide more than 50% of recommended energy.
  • Increase the intake of vegetables, as it’s usually low in children. Either as a main dish (boiled, salad, etc.), or as a side dish to the second course.
  • Provide vegetable and animal proteins, promoting the consumption of vegetables and grains.
  • The intake of fish and polyunsaturated fatty acids also tends to be low, so we must increase their consumption.
  • Decrease the consumption of sausages and cured meats and, if your child eats them, they should be lean.
  • Avoid the consumption of pastries and sweets.
  • The main fat in children’s diet should be olive oil.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cervera, P., Clapés, J., & Rigolfas, R. (2001). Alimentación. McGraw-Hill. Interamericana.
  • Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition. Interim Summary of Conclusions and Dietary Recommendations on Total Fat and Fatty Acids. Geneva. 2010.
  • Manual práctico de nutrición en pediatría. (2007) Asociación española de pediatría.
  • Peacock M. (1991). Calcium absorption efficiency and calcium requirements in children and adolescents. The American journal of clinical nutrition54(1 Suppl), 261S–265S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/54.1.261S

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.