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What are Macronutrients? [A Parents' Friendly Guide to Macros]

Food significantly impacts our children’s health. When they eat good, they feel good. A well-balanced diet empowers them by providing their bodies with essential nutrients. Otherwise, our little ones become more prone to have low energy as well as develop illnesses like heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Understanding the different nutrients in foods allows our kids to live a healthy lifestyle. We learn just how much of these they need and where to source it from. Furthermore, we as parents become more aware of which ones they need to regulate. A huge chunk of this is learning about macronutrients.


What are macronutrients and why are they important to your child's growth and development?

Macronutrients, also known as macros, are the three main nutrients and sources of calories that make up the foods we eat. These nutrients give us the energy for daily tasks and are crucial in maintaining our body's system and structure. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are those we consume in small amounts. They are also known as vitamins and minerals. Both macronutrients and micronutrients are instrumental to your children’s health.

Kids need all the essential nutrients to become their healthiest selves. As parents, we need to understand how we can incorporate these to ensure our little ones are eating a balanced diet.

For this article, we are going to dive into macros since it's what your children need to consume in big amounts. Plus, it directly impacts efforts to manage their weight and start eating a lot healthier.

The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. 


Carbohydrates are the main fuel of our bodies. They provide energy our children need to function, whether they are in school our playing their favorite sports. They not only fuel muscles but also the digestive system, organ and brain function.


Not all carbohydrates are created equal. While they are found in healthy foods like vegetables, carbs are also present in doughnuts and cakes. This macronutrient is divided into two different types, which helps us understand which ones are the bad and good.

When it comes to intake, 45-65% of calories should come from carbohydrates. This amount depends on a person's health condition, goals and lifestyle.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates is at least 130 grams per day.

Simple carbs

These carbohydrates are commonly found in foods that are rich in processed or refined sugar. They don't necessarily contain vitamins and minerals that make for a healthy diet.

Some food sources of simple carbs are:

  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Doughnuts
  • Crackers
  • Cereals
  • Soda
  • Candies
  • White flour

They are generally believed to be bad, as they are low in fiber, low in nutrients and high in saturated fat. They are the culprit to a child’s excessive or rapid weight gain. High intake of these carbs could also lead to conditions and illnesses like diabetes as well as heart ailments.

Complex carbs

These carbohydrates are commonly found in whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Our bodies process them more slowly than simple carbs, and are rich in vitamins and minerals.

Some food sources of complex carbs are:

  • Low fat or non fat dairy
  • Legumes
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Pasta
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

These are great for your kids because they are high in fiber and nutrients. Plus, they are low in saturated fat. The trick is to keep their intake of complex carbohydrates varied. Make it a habit of eating different kinds of healthy grains, vegetables and fruits so you are getting enough of it.


Protein is essential for tissue repair, muscle growth, and a well-functioning immune system. While it doesn't directly provide the body with energy, protein is composed of amino acids, which are building blocks pivotal to your child’s health.


These amino acids can be classified as non-essential, which can be synthesized in the body while essential amino acids must be obtained through your diet. There are nine essential amino acids namely histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine--all of which are instrumental to your well-being.

Both animal and plant sources are rich in protein. However, not one plant-based protein possesses all nine essential amino acids.  So if your family is vegan or vegetarian, it’s essential to eat a combination of plant based proteins everyday.

Some food sources of protein are:

  • Fish
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Lean meat
  • Tofu
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Split peas
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for children ages 4 to 9 are 19 grams of protein each day. Those between ages 9 and 13 need 34 grams.


Fats are macronutrients that allow our bodies to store energy to insulate and protect our organs. Fats are also integral to produce certain hormones, absorb fat-soluble vitamins and aid the cells in our bodies.


These macronutrients are commonly undervalued, as fat has developed a notorious reputation for weight gain. However, it's not the case. Fats are the most concentrated form of energy and enhance our ability to absorb micronutrients.

There are three types of fats you should know about:

Trans fat

Trans fats are the worst type of fats. These are made when liquid oils are turned into solids like margarine or shortening. They are the ones you need to look out for when preparing food at home, or forego completely.

Some food sources of trans fats are:

  • Margarine
  • Non-dairy coffee creamer
  • Frozen pizza
  • Refrigerated dough
  • Shortening
  • Frozen mozzarella sticks
  • Frozen fish sticks

Saturated fat

Saturated fats can provide cholesterol that help produce hormones. However, our bodies can produce their own cholesterol without the presence of this fat. Large amounts of it can be more harmful than good. So it is crucial to regulate children’s consumption of it.

Some food sources of these fats are:

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Cold cuts and cured meat
  • Biscuits
  • Cake
  • Bacon
  • Fatty cuts of meat
  • Milkshakes
  • Chocolates

Unsaturated Fat

Unsaturated fats are the best kinds of fats to include in your child’s daily diet. They are referred to as healthy fats that help prevent heart diseases and other health conditions. Moreover, they regulate your metabolism, promote cell growth and regeneration as well as maintain the elasticity of your cell membrane.

Some food sources of these fats are:

  • Avocado
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Fatty fish like salmon, fresh tuna and sardines
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Seed butter
  • Fresh, dried or desiccated coconut
  • Hummus
  • Olive oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Corn
  • Soybean

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for fats is 30 to 35% of calories for children ages 2 to 3 years and between 25 to 35% of calories for children and adolescents ages 4 to 18.

Finding balance

Daily diet depends from one child to the next because their health goals and dietary needs may differ. Others may even have health conditions parents need to think about. What's most important is understanding what our children need and sticking to them.