Daily Food Plan for Preschoolers

Empty Calories

Fats and Sugars: Know Your Limits

Empty Calories are the calories from solid fats and added sugars in foods and beverages. They add to total calories, but provide no vitamins or minerals.  Preschoolers can have some "empty calories", but too many can fill them up without supplying the nutrients they need. "Empty calories" can also add more to children's total calories than they need.

Some examples of "empty calories" are:

The sugars or sweeteners in soft drinks, fruit punch, candies, cakes, cookies, pies, and ice cream.

The solid fats in cookies, cakes, pizza, cheese, sausages, fatty meats, butter, and stick margarine.

Some foods--such as milk, yogurt, and cereals--provide important nutrients, but they can also contain some empty calories. For example, sweetened yogurt and sweetened breakfast cereals contain added sugars. Whole milk and cheese contain solid fat. Look for choices of milk, yogurt, cheese, and cereals that are low-fat, fat-free, unsweetened, or with no-added sugars.

There is room for foods with some empty calories from added sugars or solid fats now and then. But most daily food choices for preschoolers should be low in these empty calories.

Here are some ideas to help you choose foods lower in empty calories for your preschooler:

Instead of...


Regular cheese

Low-fat cheese

Sweetened yogurt

Plain yogurt plus fruit

Whole milk

Fat-free or low-fat milk

Sweetened breakfast cereals

Cereals with little or no added sugar


Graham crackers

Fried chicken or fried fish

Baked chicken or fish

French fries

Oven-baked fries

Ice cream or frozen yogurt

Frozen fruits or frozen 100% fruit bars

Soft drinks or fruit punch


Potato chips

Baked chips or whole grain crackers

Butter or margarine

Trans fat-free tub margarine

Jam or jelly

100% Fruit spread

For more information see the ChooseMyPlate.gov Empty Calories section.