A Food Diary for Tracking Your Child's Nutrition

kids filling plates at salad bar

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A food diary can be a great way to keep track of the calories your kids are eating, especially if they are overweight, and to make sure that they are getting enough fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals, and more, from all of the different food groups.

How Many Calories Do Kids Need?

In recording what your kids eat and drink on a food diary, you can make sure they aren't getting too few or too many calories. It can help to understand how many calories they actually need each day. In general, kids who are:

  • 1-3 years old need about 1,300 calories each day
  • 4-6 years old need about 1,800 calories each day
  • 7-10 years old need about 2,000 calories each day
  • 11-14 years old (boys) need about 2,500 calories each day
  • 11-14 years old (girls) need about 2,200 calories each day
  • 15-18 years old (boys) need about 3,000 calories each day
  • 15-18 years old (girls) need about 2,200 calories each day

Of course, this assumes that your child isn't trying to lose weight or gain weight.

Food Groups

Although a food diary is usually used to keep track of calories and limit calories when trying to help overweight children lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, they can also help you make sure your kids are eating a healthy diet with a variety of foods from each food group:

  • Fruits
  • Grains, with a preference for whole grains
  • Meat and beans for protein, especially lean or low-fat meats and including poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts
  • Milk and dairy — especially low-fat dairy products, like cheese and yogurt, and other foods that are good sources of calcium and vitamin D
  • Vegetables

How many servings from each food group is going to depend on your child's age, but in general, you should expect your kids to eat foods from each food group each day.

Vitamins and Minerals

Keeping track of what your kids are eating can help make sure that they are getting a good amount of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients. You can record and be on the lookout for foods that are good sources of fiber, iron, calcium, potassium, and any other nutrients that you are concerned that your kids don't get enough of.

If your kids are missing out on anything because they are picky eaters or eat too much junk food, then a multivitamin might be a good idea.

Using a Food Diary

Many kids are overweight these days and surprisingly, too many of them have no idea why. They likely know that they aren't active enough, but don't know where all of the extra calories are coming from that cause them to keep gaining extra weight.

A food diary of your child's meals can help you figure out what's going on. If your child simply eating oversized portions? Is a snack turning into an extra meal? Or are all of the extra calories from drinks to blame? Keep a food diary for a few days or weeks. You will likely be very surprised at what you discover about your child's eating habits.

Keeping a food diary for your child can help you figure out why they may be gaining weight too quickly. It helps you to evaluate snack habits, portion sizes, and identify sources of extra calories.


The sample food diary below shows what you can do with your own child's daily meals. Can you spot the problems? For one thing, assuming this is a toddler, they are getting too many calories. Also, they are getting:

  • A very limited number of vegetables in his diet
  • Plenty of calcium from the Orange Juice and milk
  • Some oversized portions, including the serving size of Oreo Cookies which would typically be three cookies, not six
  • Some very healthy choices, including 1% milk, whole-grain cereal, and some fruit
  • Too many extra calories from high sugar and high-fat foods, including the Root Beer and Oreo Cookies, which would be better as an occasional treat and not a regular snack
  • Too many snacks. Kids typically don't need a bedtime snack and if they do, it should likely just be a healthy piece of fruit, like an apple, and not cookies and milk.

In addition to reviewing the food diary yourself, it can also be a great resource if you would like to get extra help from your pediatrician in figuring out what may be wrong with your child's diet. Although you basically just record everything your child eats and drinks on the food diary, you can make it even easier by using some abbreviations, such as:


Abbreviations for meals include the following:

  • B = Breakfast
  • sAM = Morning Snack
  • L = Lunch
  • sPM = Afternoon Snack
  • D = Dinner
  • sBT = Bedtime Snack

Food Groups

Abbreviations for food groups include the following:

  • D = Milk/Dairy
  • F = Fruits
  • G = Grains
  • M = Meats/Beans
  • V = Vegetables

Example Food Diary

Below is an example food diary for a toddler. Note that this is not an example of an optimal diet.

Food Meal Serving Size Calories Food Group Description
Orange Juice Breakfast 8oz 110 Fruit Minute Maid Kids+, Calcium 35%
Cereal Breakfast 1 cup 160 Grain, Dairy MultiGrain Cheerios plus 1/2 cup 1% Milk
Apple Juice Snack 10am Juice Box 100 Fruit 100% Fruit Juice
Banana Snack 10am 1 105 Fruit Good source of fiber, potassium, vitamin C.
McDonalds Cheeseburger Happy Meal Lunch 500 Meat, Dairy, Fruit, Grain Apple Dippers, 1% Milk
Celery with Peanut Butter Snack 4pm 4 small stalks, 2 tbsp 200 Veggies, Meat/Beans Good sources of fiber, protein.
Root Beer Snack 4pm 8oz 120 Extra sugar
Macaroni and Cheese Dinner 1 220 Grain, Dairy
Oreo Cookies Snack 8pm 6 cookies 300 Extra fat and calories
Milk Snack 8pm 8oz 120 Dairy
Calorie Totals: 1,935
Food Group Totals Fruits
3 1/2

Notes: Suggestions to make this diet healthier include to reduce the number of snacks and to add more veggies and offer healthier snacks.

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Article Sources
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