Nutrition For The School Age Child

For adequate nutrition, children between the ages of four and twelve need a sufficient number of healthy calories balanced by physical exercise each day. At this age, children are beginning to eat some meals outside of the home, and peers, their food environment and the media are increasingly becoming important influences on their dietary choices. At this age, children are old enough to participate in meal planning and preparation.

Child Health and Nutrition During the School-Age Years

Child health experts recommend that school-age children consume about 1600 to 2400 calories each day. If the food pyramid is used as a reference, the lower end of the serving size range can serve as an appropriate guide.

School-age children often consume nearly a third of their daily calories right after the school day ends, so after-school snack choices can have a significant impact on the quality of a child’s diet. Try to make healthy foods available to your children after school.

Nutrition for School Age Children: Challenges

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expressed concern that many school-age children are not receiving adequate amounts of the following nutrients:

  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin E.

Inadequate calcium consumption is of special concern. School-age children require 800 mg of calcium per day, which rises to about 1200 mg during the teenage years. Among other things, adequate amounts of calcium are integral to bone development and health. Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables can provide children with needed nutrients.

In addition to ensuring that vitamin and mineral requirements are met, parents should try to keep children focused on social engagement during mealtimes, rather than computers or television screens. This way, decisions become more conscious, food associations are more pleasant and emotionally positive, and intake stays closely tied to hunger. Distraction can easily lead to overeating.

At the younger end of the school-age spectrum, children are still working through many of the control issues that began during the toddler years. Food can sometimes represent independence, and a child’s choices may be an expression of his or her will and identity. Children sometimes go on “food jags,” during which they only want one kind of food and refuse all others. Other children may refuse a certain food for a long time, causing parents to worry about nutritional gaps.

As in the toddler years, parents should try to compensate for these gaps without turning the table into a battleground. If your child refuses meat, for example, try to incorporate protein into her diet in other forms such as nuts, beans or eggs.

Setting a Good Nutritional Example

During the school-age years, parents and caregivers still have a strong influence on the development of positive habits and healthy approaches to nutrition. The media and peers can have strong influences, but children still take most of their nutrition cues from their parents. Ensure that your own exercise and eating habits are healthy, and your children will likely learn from example.

Children often enjoy meal planning, grocery shopping and assisting with meal preparation. Give your child an active role in the kitchen and a first-hand look at how you choose ingredients and cook them. These positive experiences can have a lasting effect on your child’s habits and preferences.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2010). Nutrition. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from (2010). How to please fussy eaters. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from

Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. (2010). School-aged child nutrition. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from