How many calories do children need?

Ask Peggy

Ask Peggy

DEAR PEGGY: My 4-year-old eats well, but she's learned to get into the food cabinet. I don't want to create a negative body image or put her on a diet, but how many calories does she need? I'm trying to set good examples. —L.H., Hampton, Georgia

Setting good examples is a great idea. Kids are very perceptive, and it's important to teach them how to live a healthy life from the start.

A moderately active 4-year-old needs about 1,400 calories a day. But, counting calories at this age is dangerously close to teaching her about dieting. Instead, you want to help her make healthy choices by keeping nutritious foods in the house. If she's helping herself to food, most likely she's hungry. You may need to try smaller meals throughout the day.

To keep the conversation away from "good" and "bad" foods, work with her to choose healthy foods. At snack time, for example, ask if she'd like a small apple with peanut butter or veggie sticks and dip. At 4, she'll probably want to decide on her own, but giving her nutritious options helps set some boundaries.