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Diet and Nutrition

How Much Candy Should My Child Have?

Young boy about 7 or 8 smiling with a mouthful of candy, obviously enjoying the tasteThere is a reason why candy is one of the foods left off MyPlate, the USDA’s national dietary guidelines.  The calories in candy are “empty”.  In other words, they are full of added sugars and empty of essential nutrients. Children should limit candy and other foods like these that are not necessary.  But as a parent, you already know that it may be difficult, especially during holidays and other special occasions.

So, how do parents help their kids learn how to enjoy candy in moderation?


The Bottom Line

The bulk of the foods your child eats should help him/her get the nutrients his/her body needs.  These foods include:


Limiting “Empty” Calories

Think of empty calories as the extras -- added sugars, solid fats -- that do not add many (or any) nutrients but do add calories.  The amount of “empty” calories your child should be allowed to have is small and depends on:

For example, for children between the ages of 9-13 who get fewer than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days, the allowance is:

To develop a more specific plan for your children, visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov.  Under the Supertracker tab, enter your child’s information into My Daily Food Plan.


Mini-sizing Candy Choices

Luckily, most candy companies offer miniature-sized bars.  This helps with portion control. For instance, a regular size Snickers bar has 250 calories.  Compare this to a "fun" size Snickers that has just 80 calories and a miniature Snickers that has only 42.5 calories. To check the specific calorie count, look at the Nutrition Facts label. You will find that some miniature candy bars contain fewer than 50 calories, while others have closer to 100 calories.

Once you have a good idea of how many empty calories your children can consume, it is just a matter of doing some simple math to decide how much to allow them to eat per day.  For most kids, it is about 1-3 miniature or fun size pieces of candy. 


Other Things to Keep in Mind:

Also, try to avoid serving fast food, fried foods, and other meals that tend to be higher in calories.


Key Points to Remember:

  • Your child’s diet should be mostly foods high in nutrients such as
    • vegetables
    • fruits
    • whole grains
    • lean protein
    • lowfat dairy
    • healthful oils like omega-3
  • Decide how many “empty” calories your child should have each day.
  • Teach your child ways to stay within these “empty” calorie guidelines.
  • Plan lower-calorie meals for special occasions and holidays when your child may be eating too many empty calories.


It Pays Off!

Remember – eating “empty” calorie foods like candy should be limited.  Helping your child to learn to limit empty calories today can have lifelong health benefits.


This article originally appeared in Chow Line (10/19/09) a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

Erin Lombardo, MS, Dietetic Intern, The Ohio State University, assisted in the review of this content.



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Last Reviewed: May 30, 2013

Carolyn  Gunther, PhD Carolyn Gunther, PhD
Assistant Professor of Human Nutrition
College of Education and Human Ecology
The Ohio State University