How many calories should my child with Down syndrome eat?

Joan Guthrie Medlen
Nutrition & Dietetics

This is a very broad question and varies with each child. Not with each age, but with each child! The most important message is this: feed your children the same way you feed your other children.

Rather than tell you exactly how many calories your child needs in a day, I will give you some guidelines.

Here’s what we know:

Children with Down syndrome need fewer calories each day than children who do not. Research tells us that people with Down syndrome of all ages burn about 10-15% fewer calories when at rest than people without Down syndrome. That means your child needs 10% fewer calories to sleep than a person of the same height, weight, and age.

What we do not know is whether or not people with Down syndrome burn more or fewer calories when they do the same activity as we do!

So really we don’t know much.

We do know that kids with Down syndrome need a bit less.

How much less? It’s not that much.

For example, the difference in calories between two 25 year old women of the exact same height and weight is about 150 calories. That’s one medium sized apple.

Eating an extra medium sized apple every day for a year adds up to 54,750 calories. Eating an extra 150 calories every day for a full year means a weight gain of 16#.

A good guide for how many calories a person with Down syndrome should eat a day is this: the same amount as a person without Down syndrome, minus 2 bites per serving.

This means that every bite counts! It’s important to get the most nutrition bang from a “food buck.” What I mean is this: choose high nutrition foods for your meals and snacks.

What is a high nutrition food?

A high nutrition food is one that has many vitamins and minerals for every calorie. Some examples are fresh fruits and vegetables and 100% juices. Milk is another high nutrition food.

A low nutrition food is one that has few vitamins and minerals for every calorie. Some examples are chips, cookies, candy, and soda. One of the biggest culprits of empty calories for young people today is high fructose corn syrup. It is used in soda, flavored drinks, and candy.

Your goal, as a parent, is to provide meals that your child enjoys that are full of nutrition value. Easier said than done!

There are many ideas of ways to do this in my book, The Down Syndrome Nutrition Handbook: A Guide to Healthy Lifestyles, available through or my website. You can find other ideas on my website,

Continue Learning about Down Syndrome

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.