How to Use a Food Log to Track Your Child's Meals and Calories

kids filling plates at salad bar

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

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 Still Matter

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:

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

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 Do Too

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.

Track Your Child's Meals with 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. The My Plate Daily Checklist is an alternative to a food diary that can help you to see if you are keeping up with the latest nutrition advice and meeting targets for each food group.

Example Food Diary

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, he is getting too many calories. Also, he is getting:

  • 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.
  • 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
  • Some oversized portions, including the serving size of Oreo Cookies which would typically be three cookies, not six
  • A very limited number of vegetables in his diet
  • Plenty of calcium from the Orange Juice and milk
  • Some very healthy choices, including 1% milk, whole grain cereal, and some fruit

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:

  • Meals
    • B = Breakfast
    • sAM = Morning Snack
    • L = Lunch
    • sPM = Afternoon Snack
    • D = Dinner
    • sBT = Bedtime Snack
  • Food Groups
    • G = Grains
    • V = Vegetables
    • F = Fruits
    • M = Meats/Beans
    • D = Milk/Dairy
Example Food Diary (not necessarily a healthy example!)
FoodMealServing SizeCaloriesFood GroupDescription
Orange JuiceBreakfast8oz110FruitMinute Maid Kids+, Calcium 35%
CerealBreakfast1 cup160Grain, DairyMultiGrain Cheerios plus 1/2 cup 1% Milk
Apple JuiceSnack 10amJuice Box100Fruit100% Fruit Juice
BananaSnack 10am1105FruitGood source of fiber, potassium, vitamin C.
McDonalds Cheeseburger Happy MealLunch 500Meat, Dairy, Fruit, GrainApple Dippers, 1% Milk
Celery with Peanut ButterSnack 4pm4 small stalks, 2 tbsp200Veggies, Meat/BeansGood sources of fiber, protein.
Root BeerSnack 4pm8oz120 Extra sugar
Macaroni and CheeseDinner1220Grain, Dairy 
Oreo CookiesSnack 8pm6 cookies300 Extra fat and calories
MilkSnack 8pm8oz120Dairy 
Calorie Totals:  1,935  
Food Group TotalsFruits
3 1/2
Notes:Too many snacks! Need more veggies and healthier snacks.
Was this page helpful?