Kids eat right.

How Many Calories Does My Teen Need?

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN
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Calories provide energy, which we need to survive and perform daily activities. The calories we get from food and beverages allow us to breathe, walk, run, laugh and even pump blood. Calorie needs vary depending on age, sex, height and activity level. Calorie needs are often higher during the teenage years than any other time of life. During this period of rapid growth and development, boys require an average of 2,800 calories a day, while girls require an average of 2,200 calories a day.

Below is a detailed list of calorie needs for teens by age, sex and activity level.

For Boys:

Age Not Active Moderately Active Active
13 2,000 2,200 2,600
2,000 – 2,200
2,400 – 2,600
2,800 – 3,000
16-18 2,400 2,800 3,200
19 2,600 2,800 3,000

For Girls:

Age Not Active Moderately Active Active
13 1,600 2,000 2,200
19 2,000 2,200 2,400

Activity Levels:

  • Not Active – Minimal activity, only moving for tasks needed for daily life, such as walking to the mailbox.
  • Moderately Active – Engages in activity needed for daily living, plus activity equivalent to walking 1.5 to 3 miles daily, or 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Active – Engages in activity needed for daily life, plus activity equivalent to walking 3 or more miles daily, or more than 40 minutes.

A Well-balanced Eating Plan

The amount of calories in food vary depending on how much carbohydrate, protein and fat it contains – both carbohydrates and protein provide four calories per gram, while fat provides nine calories per gram. It is important that teens obtain calories from nutrient-dense sources, which are higher in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, and limit added sugars, salt and saturated fats. A well-balanced eating plan includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean protein foods.

Body Image

Body image may be a concern for teens, as they start to form thoughts and feelings about the way they look. Body image can be positive or negative and may have little to do with actual appearance. Parents are the most influential role model in a teen’s life, so it is important to teach healthy body image by being a positive example. Avoid dieting, eat an overall balanced diet and try not to talk negatively about your body around your children. Avoid putting emphasis on people’s physical appearance and engage in discussions with your teen about body image portrayed in media. Encourage your teen to exercise for energy, health and strength rather than for outward appearance.

Healthy Weight

Just like adults, teens come in all shapes and sizes. A balanced eating plan and regular physical activity will help your teen grow into their healthy weight. While nearly 20% of teens have an obese body mass index, nearly 3% of adolescent girls meet the criteria for an eating disorder. If you are concerned about your teen’s weight or relationship with food, seek guidance from a registered dietitian nutritionist or physician.