How many calories should a four year old have?

I’ve learned a lot, since last week, about the National Child Measurement Programme and childhood weight issues.

“We’ve had a letter back from school about our son,” said Tony, after the children had gone to bed and I had a cup of tea in my hand. He picked his moment as best he could. “It says that he is overweight.”

I reacted as he knew I would. I was very upset. We’re not perfect parents. They have snacks. But I don’t think we’re notably bad with the things we let them eat. I’m keen on healthy eating. And we actively encourage physical activity, getting out on our bikes at the weekend. The kids both go to physical activity clubs.

I looked at the letter. It didn’t just say my child was overweight. It said my four year old boy was “very overweight for their age, sex and height”. It was like a smack in the face.

It went on to say “Being very overweight can lead to health problems for your child, such as high blood pressure, early signs of type 2 diabetes and low self-confidence. But you and your child can make simple changes to be more active and eat more healthily. As a first step please call us on xxxx”.

 What weight should my child be?

It was 9pm ish. So in order to get some understanding of what this was all about, I went online, following the links suggested to me in the letter:

By this point, I was not crying so hard, and was looking for answers. So I noted down my questions

  • What weight should he be?
  • How much weight per week should he be losing?
  • How many calories should a four year old have – and made up of what?
  • How many calories should he have to lose weight?
  • What is the right portion size for protein, vegetables, carbs and grains?
  • What is an acceptable calorie count for a child’s meal?

What are ‘me size’ meals?

Neither of the links gave me any specific information about what to do about my apparently very overweight four year old. There was no information on what a healthy portion size is for a four year old. Or what their calorie intake should be. Just a generic ‘exercise more and reduce portion size’. And a completely impenetrable and useless direction to serve ‘me size’ meals….. What on earth does that mean?

And reduce portion size from what to what? Five slices of pizza to four? Three less chips in each meal? Only two Big Macs a day rather than one in each meal? My son doesn’t sit still. He’s always on the move. He plays football. He rides his bike. He spends his whole time at after school club charging about playing games with his friends.

But the sites did point out that according to their view, ‘very overweight’ is synonymous with obese.


I tried to find some information about what he should weigh. Nothing. Some hard to decipher growth charts on other sites, not NHS. It kinda looked like he is in the 98 centile for height for his age. What should a very tall four year old boy weigh?

Change4life couldn’t tell me – nothing specific at all for four year olds. But the NHS did recommend that I use  MyFitnessPal to track my child’s calorie intake. I looked up child weight on MyFitnessPal – its Ts&Cs say that it is only for use by over 18s.

I could only guess at the school’s and the wraparound care service’s respective positions on keeping an online calorie counter up to date for the three meals a day they serve my child.

So then I got to thinking, I work long hours all week, as does my partner. My children are fed by Richmond Council. I pay Richmond Council to provide 50% of their meals a week: breakfast club before school, school dinners and then tea at after school club.

What is the calorie count of the meals supplied by Richmond Council? How large are the portions? Do the kids have seconds? Do they have a dessert with every meal (they don’t at home…)?

I looked up the school meals provider ISS Facility Services. They state that each meal is nutritionally balanced, but there was nothing about portion size or calories on their site.

It’s not just what you eat, what about lifestyle?

Then I got to thinking they are in the care of the Council for the vast majority of their waking hours during the week. So how much exercise time do they get? In a small house like ours, cooping our children up all day would be pretty miserable by mid-morning. We’re out walking, cycling, scootering, at the playground over the weekend. But it would seem my son, in reception, doesn’t even have a PE session. And my daughter in year three only has two sessions a week.

So, after a good while of searching the NHS online I was none the wiser as to what do about my ‘obese’ child. Just very concerned that I would need to put my child on a diet, but I didn’t know how much he should eat, how much weight he should lose, in what time frame. I didn’t know how many calories he should have in the time he’s in my care. And I couldn’t tell how many calories are in half of the meals he has, as served by Richmond Council.

What had I learned?

That my child was apparently obese and at risk of low self esteem, diabetes, heart problems and cancer. He needed to go on a diet. And that ‘me size portions’ were advisable.

As soon as I could, I needed to get on the phone to the School Nursing Service who’d sent me the letter. But that calls for another post…

4 thoughts on “How many calories should a four year old have?

  1. 4kandles

    What an irresponsible letter to send, could so easily do more damage than good for children who are still growing and developing. Not all parents would do such extensive research and start restricting food groups that are needed for little bodies. I’ve never considered Rudi as overweight and I’ve rarely seen him still either. Big hugs xx

  2. Karen Drury (@karencdrury)

    Jane – he’s FOUR. He has plenty of time to grow into his body. I’ve seen the graphs about weight – if I was the weight I’m advised to be, I’d look ILL! I would worry less about the calories (within reason) give your lad plenty of vegetables, and instead of fretting about his eating habits, encourage him into exercise habits which will stand him in good stead all his life. The letter you have sounds like officialese gone mad, if you’re really concerned, go and see your doctor with Rudi – I imagine he will reassure you. 🙂

    1. janeyfranklin Post author

      Thanks Karen. You’re right about the officialese. But I’m not worried about him – he runs himself ragged every day. I am cross that a faceless dept calls him obese and implies he should be on a diet.


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