What overview of the diet of children from 3 to 12 years old?

The period between infancy and adolescence is often considered a period of transition from a nutritional point of view. The start of schooling allows the child to enter into regular and programmed rhythms of both physical activity and mealtimes. However diet of children some basic advice and information are still useful regarding nutritional needs.

Recommended nutritional intakes (ANC) for children aged 3 to 12

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (ANC) were established by ANSES (formerly Afssa) in 2001, and reviewed in 2010 for lipids.

Growth rate and physical activity


These average values ​​may vary depending on growth rate and physical activity.The average nutritional needs are calculated from the ANC proposed in 2001The values ​​given for iron in the table above are rounded average values ​​which may therefore vary according to the bioavailability of iron in food. This bioavailability is 20 to 30% higher for diets rich in animal products, in particular meat products, and 20 to 30% lower for predominantly vegetarian diets.

The best sources of iron: meat and fish, which contain heme iron that is better absorbed than the non-heme iron of vegetables, for example.

Best sources of calcium: dairy products are the main source of dietary calcium (milk, yoghurt, cheese, etc.)

The best sources of vitamin C:


Fruits and vegetables (orange, strawberry, kiwi, red pepper, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.)Focus on the recommended nutritional intakes of vitamin D  6

Since October 2008, vitamin D has been the subject of a health claim in Europe. EFSA has come out favourably on the scientific substantiation of a health claim concerning vitamin D and bone growth:

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“Vitamin D is necessary for normal growth and bone development in children”

As part of this advice, it was recognized that there is a causal relationship between vitamin D intake and normal bone growth and development in children and adolescents. Indeed, adequate vitamin D status is necessary to ensure efficient absorption of calcium and to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphate necessary for normal bone mineralization. 

Synthesis of vitamin D in the skin

However, in European countries, the synthesis of vitamin D in the skin by the action of solar radiation is insufficient to meet the needs, especially during the winter months when exposure to the sun is less. Adequate intake of vitamin D throughout childhood and adolescence is however necessary to achieve a level of vitamin D that is sufficient for normal bone mineralization.

Recommended intakes of vitamin D have therefore been defined by several expert committees in order to satisfy the normal growth and bone development of children and adolescents.


Compared to adults, children therefore seem to have a slightly higher carbohydrate diet (46.6% versus 44% for adults) and less protein and fat. This can be explained by the importance of the snack in children, which consists of many carbohydrates (pastries, biscuits, pastries and chocolate).

Persists and is particularly respected at the extreme agesg.


A distribution of total energy intake over the different meals of the day which differs from that of adults  7 The traditional French daily food rhythm, based on 3 main meals to which a snack can be added, persists and is particularly respected at the extreme ages of life: 74% of children aged 3 to 10 follow this rhythm. In children, breakfasts and snacks contribute more to total energy intake than in adults: 19%  vs.  13% for adults. Lunch and dinner meals are therefore lighter than in adults: 34 and 31% of total energy. There is therefore a  food balance for children  to find.

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Food and nutritional intake according to the PNNS 

Focus on food and nutritional intake according to the PNNS target indicators and consumption benchmarks (ENNS study)  8

The national health nutrition study (ENNS 2006) was set up within the framework of the PNNS, to describe the food consumption, nutritional status and physical activity of a national sample of children (3-17 years old) and adults (18-74 years old) residing in metropolitan France. The results of this study are given according to the objective indicators and benchmarks of the PNNS.

Fruit and vegetable intake

A little less than 1/4 of the children have a water and sugary drink intake corresponding to the PNNS benchmark (water as much as you want, sugary drinks to be limited) 2/3 of children consume less than 1 litre of water per day

1/3 of children consume more than 1/2 glass of sugary drinks per day

The morning snack at school? 9

In the school environment, given the increase in overweight and obesity, the morning snack should be neither systematic nor compulsory. In the light of various surveys, ANSES (ex-Afssa), following the advice of the. Nutrition Committee of the French Society of Paediatrics, recommended its abolition. Considering that it is a factor in modifying food rhythms and excess calories. Surveys have shown that this morning snack has gradually become a real meal with foods high in calories and. In particular in simple carbohydrates and lipids, such as biscuits, pastries or cakes. Thus adding to the intake energy of the 4 other meals and can promote weight gain in children. 

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Insufficient nutrient intake

However, certain specific situations, linked to the living. Conditions of the children and their families, may require the distribution of food. This snack should be targeted at children who have not taken breakfast. Or those who have taken it very early and/or very poorly, in order to compensate for insufficient nutrient intake. In these cases, the snack must be offered when the children arrive at school. And at least two hours before lunch, favouring bread, fruit and unsweetened semi-skimmed milk. 

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