Special Nutritional Needs in Kids and Teens

Kids and teens have more specific nutritional needs compared to adults. There are some differences in energy and protein requirements. Keep reading to learn more.
Special Nutritional Needs in Kids and Teens

Last update: 27 April, 2020

Kids and teens have specific nutritional needs compared to adults. Since they’re growing and developing, there are certain nutrients that they need more of. Therefore, it’s a good idea to change their diets to ensure that these needs are met and to help prevent future diseases.

In addition, during these developmental stages, they’re learning the foundations for a healthy diet. Consequently, it’s important to set a good foundation to prevent problems or bad habits in the future. 

Energy needs

Kids and teens have slightly higher energy needs. To cope with the energy expenditure of growth, they need more caloriesIn fact, kids between one and three years old need 1,300 kcal per day. Kids between four and six years of age require 1,800.

These energy requirements gradually increase until adulthood, where they need around 2,000 kcal per day. However, of course, it depends on the physical characteristics of each person.

Mainly, carbohydrates make the most energy. The World Health Organization recommends that 50 percent of the energy in these diets comes from carbs.

In this sense, complex carbohydrates are more important than simple ones. As much as possible, we recommend not eating too much sugar or processed foods.

A pasta plate with tomato and basil.

Specialized nutritional needs: protein

Protein requirements also increase during this stage. Generally, they should consume 0.5 grams for every pound that they weigh. For sedentary adults, it’s about 0.4 gram per pound.

This macronutrient is essential for building tissue and regulating homeostasis and metabolism. Also, it’s important that at least half of the protein is made up of animal proteins.

So, restrictive diets such as the vegan diet aren’t good for this stage of life. This type of regimen usually provides a low amount of protein. In children and teens, it’s important that they consume enough milk and dairy products.

On the other hand, dairy products also help keep the intestinal microbiota healthy. In fact, there’s a correlation between a healthy microbiota in kids and a lower risk of complex diseases later in life.

As a result, it’s important to include pasteurized dairy products in the diets of kids and teens. However, be careful with how processed they are. Usually, yogurt contains more sugar than we’d recommend.

Vitamin needs

As a general rule, multivitamins aren’t necessary at this stage of life. Although specialists talk about multivitamins in adults today, kids don’t need to take them.

However, if your child has a vitamin deficiency, you’ll need to supplement it. Usually, following a balanced diet will give your child all of the vitamins he needs.

A girl eating pasta with vegetables.

In teens, sometimes they might need more iron, calcium, or zinc. However, these can usually be included as a part of a healthy diet without requiring supplements.

Additionally, be careful with vitamin D. In many countries, people are deficient because of low sun exposure and low consumption of bluefish. This macronutrient is linked to growth, bone health, and homeostatic balance. Therefore, it’s important to consume enough to prevent problems.

Specifically, teens that use oral contraception, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs may need more of these vitamins.

Final thoughts on special nutritional needs

In short, kids and teens have more specialized nutritional needs than adults. Although there isn’t much difference when it comes to micronutrients, they do need a high-protein, high-calorie diet. As we’ve mentioned, restrictive diets shouldn’t limit food groups.

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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.

  • Hidalgo Vicario MI., Guemes Hidalgo M., Nutrición en la edad preescolar, escolar y adolescente. Pediatr Integral, 2007. 11 (9): 347-362.
  • Bizzaro G., Antico A., Fortunato A., Bizzaro N., Vitamin D and autoinmune disease: is vitamin D receptor (VDR) polymorphism the culprit?. Isr Med Assoc J, 2017. 19 (7): 438-443.

The contents of this publication are written for informational purposes. At no time do they facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.