How many calories should a child eat per day to lose weight?

Updated July 18, 2017

Just like adults, children can be overweight or obese. But unlike adults, children are still growing, and they need enough calories to feed their growing bodies. Strategies for overweight children to reach a more healthy weight include exercise and healthier eating habits, but they should not include severe caloric restriction; instead, kids should stay near the recommended daily calories for their age group while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.


The typical 2- to 3-year-old child should be consuming about 1,000 calories per day, according to U.S. government recommendations. Dieting is especially unsafe for children at this age, as they need calories and fat to feed their growing brains. If your child is overweight at this age, focus on cutting out empty calories like candy and sugary drinks, while allowing the child unlimited access to health foods.

Young Children

The typical 4- to 8-year-old boy should eat about 1,400 calories a day, while girls in this age group should get about 1,200 calories a day. For example, a boy this age should consume 2 cups of milk, 113gr. of lean meat (equivalent to a small chicken breast), 1 1/2 cups of fruit, 1 1/2 cups of vegetables, and 142gr. of grains. While, again, you don't want to severely restrict the calories of growing children, you may find that the recommended daily calories are less than your child normally consumes, especially if he eats a lot of sweets and junk food.


Tweens, or children between the ages of 9 and 13, are usually near or already entering puberty, and it is especially important for them to eat a healthy diet as their bodies develop. The recommended intake for girls at this age is 1,600 calories, while boys should get 1,800 calories. This is an age at which body image issues begin to surface, especially in girls, and parents should ensure that children who want to diet at this age are maintaining a healthy calorie intake.


Older teenagers are reaching biological adulthood, so the recommendations from the U.S. government for teens between the ages of 14 and 18 are the same as the recommendations for adults: 1,800 calories for girls and 2,200 calories for boys. Teens who are severely overweight may be able to diet in a healthy way by restricting calories; a reduction of 500 calories a day should result in a weight loss of one pound per week. However, it is likely that teens who are very overweight are already eating far more calories than recommended. For example, a teenage girl might be able to reduce weight steadily by maintaining the recommended 1,800 calories a day.


Consult your child's paediatrician or nutritionist before undertaking a diet plan for a child who is obese or who has any special medical conditions that affect his diet or weight. Remember, also, that the standard calorie recommendations are not always appropriate for every child; teenage athletes may consume many more calories and still maintain a healthy weight. Be cautious in enforcing a strict caloric intake for any child, as this can lead to psychological issues with eating which may cause more damage in the long term than they help in the short term.

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About the Author

Rachel Conoley has been a newspaper copy editor and page designer since 1997. She has dual bachelor's degrees in classical culture and history from the University of Oklahoma. On the side, she has been making and selling tie-dye since 2007.