How much should we be feeding children?

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There’s more to feeding a child than simply filling a child. We aim to show all the reasons why a healthy balanced diet is crucial for the formative years. This is why our menu has our special menu key to highlight the foods that support the different aspects of a child’s development, brain health, oral health, bones etc. But one big question we often get asked is:

“How much should we feed our children?”

Children, like adults come in all shapes and sizes and with varied appetites and energy outputs. No two children will eat the same each week, some will always finish and seem to want more whereas others will rarely finish a plate. This is, as you know perfectly normal, but we would like to give you the assurance that our menu has taken into account the general guidance for feeding the different age-groups within your settings.

There are general guidelines for calculating both daily calorie needs, and the macronutrient needs for different age groups – macronutrients are the energy-giving foods, Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates.

We have shown some examples here: -

DCN (Daily Calorie Needs)

< 2 years old1077 kcal
5 years old (active girl)1250 kcal
10 years old (bit active boy)2180 kcal
15 years old (very active girl)2431 kcal


One of the most important elements is to ensure that children are naturally full (this goes some way to avoid the constant desire for snacks!).  Of all the macronutrients (foods with calories – Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins). Protein is the one that helps us to feel naturally full and satisfied from the foods we eat.

We’ve shown below how ‘Molly’ could meet her protein requirements using items from the Nursery Kitchen menu: -

Molly is between 1-3 years old, so the protein (grams per day) = 1.05 x weight in kg

Molly aged 2 weighs 13kg – she would need 1.05 x 13 = 13.65 – Molly would need a minimum of 14g protein each day.

Example Menu

Using Molly as an example and looking at a typical day on the Nursery Kitchen menu, Molly would easily meet her protein requirements having breakfast and lunch in a setting: -

  • Mango Yogurt = 3g
  • Wholemeal Pitta Bread = 4g
  • Smokey BBQ Beef = 8g
  • Side of Broccoli = 2g
  • Total = 17g protein

If Molly had tea at home such as an egg (approx. 6g) or a peanut butter sandwich (8g) this can easily add up.

When it comes to calculating carbohydrate and fat intake it’s slightly more complicated as we work out DCN (Daily Calorie Need) and PAL (Physical Activity Level) – the amount of carbohydrates required are then a percentage of the DCN.

The carbohydrate intake range will depend on how active or inactive the child is. An active child will require more carbohydrates, while a very active child will need a higher percentage of protein additionally.

All children require a high percentage of dietary fats in their diet (but it is essential that the dietary fats are from the right sources).

These calculations are approximate as there is no such thing an average child! Gender, height, weight, body composition and activity levels all fluctuate but they are a good general guide.

DCN (Daily Calorie Needs)

< 2 years old1077 kcal
5 years old (active girl)1250 kcal
10 years old (bit active boy)2180 kcal
15 years old (very active girl)2431 kcal


Calories from Carbohydrates (range)

< 2 years old50% of DCN = 538 kcal/134g carbohydrates
5 years old (active girl)55% of DCN = 688- 737 kcal/172-184g carbohydrates
10 years old (bit active boy)50%-54% of DCN – 1090-1177 kcal 272-294g carbohydrates
15 years old (very active girl)60%-65% of DCN – 1459-1580 kcal 364-395g carbohydrates


Calories from fats

1-3 years oldMinimum of 30-40g fats

270 – 360 kcal from DCN should be from fat (good fats)

4-16 years oldMinimum of 25-35g fats

225-315 kcal from DCN should be from fat (good fat)


Should children eat everything we give them?

As we mentioned earlier, children’s appetites vary, some seem to never be full, and others can’t manage much.  As long as we monitor any real concerns about over or under eating this is all perfectly natural.  One thing that children are naturally very good at though (much better than us grown-ups!) is knowing when they are actually full.  Sometimes however, it is in our nature to get the child to clear the plate, perhaps we were trained to do so and it’s natural to not like food waste but, children don’t need to clear their plate!

By instilling the notion of a clean plate each time, we can inadvertently encourage over-eating and remove the child’s natural ability of feeling full. The same applies for the language we use around food, particularly over pudding.  Pudding should not be an incentive to complete the main, this can create an unhealthy relationship with food.  Ideally try not to bribe with phrases like “eat it all up and you can have pudding” or “you have to eat your Broccoli before you can have pudding”.  These both make the main food (the meal, the veg) the most nutritious part of the diet, something to endure to reach the goal of the ‘nice part’, the pudding.  We want the child to enjoy the main part and if, only if there’s room to then enjoy a portion of pudding too.

When we reward a clean plate with pudding, unfortunately this can create over-eating and emotional eating tendencies as grown-ups – a grown up rewarding themselves with food.  When it comes to feeding children, we are not just feeding them to fill them up, but we are creating and shaping the food patterns, habits and even addictions that children can have as adults.

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