How Many Calories and Protein Does My Pre-Teen Need?

The pre-adolescent years, ages 10-12, are an important developmental stage for children emotionally, cognitively, and physically. Nutrition plays an important role in this pivotal stage. 

Parents, you may be wondering how to make sure your preteen is properly nourished. Today we’re answering questions like, how many calories does my child need? How much protein is enough? And/or are they having too much protein? Before we get into the details let’s start by assessing your pre-teen’s activity levels.


Activity Level To Determine Calorie Needs


Identifying how active your child is an important factor involved in figuring out the caloric and protein needs for your growing pre-teen. Thinking about daily activities. What activity level category does your child fall under?


Not Active: Your pre-teen is primarily sedentary with little energy used throughout the day. Activities they spend most of their time enjoying could include: reading, writing, video games, watching movies, drawing.


Somewhat Active: Your pre-teen is active for around 30 minutes to 40 minutes a day, but they spend most of their free time sedentary. This could include walking to school or around the neighborhood, riding their bike or scooter, or walking for less than 3 miles a day. 


Active: Your pre-teen is considered active if they spend a lot of their energy doing activities throughout the day. They are probably on a sports team, walk for more than 3 miles a day, or are playing outside for the majority of their free time. 


Calculating Calories for Your Pre-Teen


Caloric needs vary for every adult and child. Factors contributing to caloric needs are activity level, age, and gender according to We Can! Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition


Gender plays a role in caloric needs and expenditure. This is due to the differences in weight, metabolic rates, and the amount of lean muscle mass. 


For preteens specifically, the *chart* below gives a great overview of the calories needed for 10-12 year olds: 


Girls: Not Active: 1400-1600, Somewhat Active: 1600-2000, Active: 1800-2200

Boys: Not Active: 1600-2000, Somewhat Active: 1800-2200, Active: 2000-2600


Having adequate calories in a pre-teen’s diet is important for them to thrive. Too little calories could cause your child to lack concentration, lack energy, or delay development. Too many calories could cause unwanted weight gain and other health problems. 


While calorie intake is important to note, it’s also extremely important to understand that calorie counting can be harmful. Instead use estimates and look at food as fuel rather than a number. The goal here is to create a positive relationship with food.


Calculating Protein for Your Pre-Teen


Although macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) are important for pre-teen development, protein is the “major structural component of all cells in the body” according to the Institute of Medicine. Protein plays a crucial role in providing energy for growing kids, as well as building and repairing muscles. 


How much protein does your child need? 


As a general rule of thumb, a child 10-12 needs about .45 grams of protein for every pound of body weight according to pediatrician Dr. Natalie Digate Muth. So if your child weighs 70lbs, they would need about 31 grams of protein a day. 

For most 10-12 year olds, around 25-35 grams a day of protein is adequate. That’s about 2 servings of Grow Daily.


Setting Your Child Up For Successful Eating


Picky eating can still be a struggle for 10-12 year olds. Parents can combat this by helping their child learn eating independence. 

Taking them to the grocery store and letting them choose between meal options can help them feel independent and excited to eat the food they picked out. Letting your pre-teen help prepare food and pack lunches is also a great way to get them engaged in their meal time! 

Fostering independence and empowering your pre-teens with the right information to fuel their bodies will help to set a healthy tone with their food choices in the years to come. 

The content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.