How Many Calories should A 12 Year Old Eat


How many calories should a 12 year old eat? The answer to this question is different from child to child. It also depends on the child’s, gender, weight and height. We all have different body types and that’s why we shouldn’t all eat the same amount of calories in a day. In this article I’m gonna tell you how many calories should a 12 year old eat during their growth spurt based on their current activity level.

Many children eat too much fat, and in some cases too much sweets, salt and sugary drinks. As a result, some children who are overweight or obese may not be getting enough calories from healthy food such as grains, fruits and vegetables.

How to Determine the Calorie Intake for Children

How to Determine the Calorie Intake for Children

The amount of calories your child consumes each day affects his mood, growth and development. Although an alarming number of children in the U.S. are overweight or obese, the Child Welfare League of America reports that about 3 percent of households in the U.S. frequently skip meals and eat too few calories. Encouraging your child to consume calories from a variety of healthy foods, such as lean meats, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, will help keep him at a healthy body weight and optimize his development.

Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 estimate the number of calories your child requires to maintain a healthy body weight. Based on these recommendations, 2-year-olds need about 1,000 calories, 3-year-olds need 1,000 to 1,400 calories, children ages 4 to 8 require 1,200 to 2,000 calories, girls ages 9 to 18 need 1,400 to 2,400 calories and boys ages 9 to 18 require 1,600 to 3,200 calories each day, depending on their specific age and activity level.

Calories per Pound

If your child is within a healthy weight range, you can use his body weight to help estimate his calorie needs. According to Hasbro Children’s Hospital, infants need 41 to 55 calories per pound of body weight, 1- to 7-year-olds require 34 to 41 calories per pound, kids ages 7 to 12 need 27 to 34 calories per pound and pre-teens and teens ages 12 to 18 require 14 to 27 calories per pound of body weight each day.

Individualized Needs

Your child’s individualized calorie needs are based on his age, height, weight, gender and activity level. Using an online calorie calculator can estimate your child’s unique calorie needs. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that active 3-year-old girls and boys need 1,400 calories, active 8-year-old girls need about 1,800 calories, active 8-year-old boys require about 2,000 calories, a 16-year-old, 5-foot-3, 120-pound active teen girl needs 2,400 calories and a 16-year-old, 5-foot-8, 155-pound active teenage boy requires about 3,200 calories per day for healthy weight maintenance.

Growth Charts

Your child’s pediatrician will regularly track his growth and development, making sure he is growing at a healthy, consistent pace. Children who have a significant reduction in the pace of their growth may be consuming too few calories, or lack certain nutrients in their diet. Your pediatrician will be able to let you know if your child is consuming too few—or too many—calories by analyzing trends on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts.

Nutritional Needs of Young Children

Children should be carefully fed so as to maintain and encourage good growth and meet their energy needs. Side by side, physical exercise should be promoted, as well as drinking plenty of plain water. The child should run and play outdoors for at least an hour every day, if possible.

Regular growth assessment is helpful in maintaining adequate dietary intake and physical growth.

Young children are extremely active, but eat little at a time. They should receive a lot of high-energy foods, such as carbohydrates in the form of whole-grain cereals, full-fat dairy or soy milk, vegetable oils, fruits (two servings) and vegetables in boiled, baked, steamed or sautéed form (three servings). A little butter is also helpful in adding energy for their needs.

Children between 5-10 years need about 1,500 to 2,000 kilocalories a day from their food.

Image Credit: GSerban / Shutterstock

Image Credit: GSerban / Shutterstock

Choosing Foods for Children

Foods for children should contain some from each of the five food groups, the amount depending on the age, physical growth and level of activity of the child.

  • Vegetables: plenty of colored vegetables of different types, leafy and non-leafy– one serving is half a cup of cooked vegetables or legumes, and one cup of raw salad vegetables: 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables should be offered every day
  • Fruits of a variety of types – one serving is one medium piece or one cup of diced/canned fruit without sugar, two small fruits, such as plums, or an ounce of dry fruits
  • Whole grains, as grains or flour, such as breads, pasta, oats and cereals – a serving being a bread slice/scone/muffin or half a cup of cooked cereal, pasta or rice: 4-6 servings a day
  • Proteins, such as lean meat, poultry, eggs and fish, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes (peas, beans and pulses) – a serving is about 100 g raw meats/fish, two eggs, 170 g tofu, ¾ cup cooked legumes: 1-2 servings a day
  • Milk/milk products including curds and cheese are excellent sources of healthy fat and protein – a single serving is 40 g cheese, a cup of milk or soy milk (the latter with added calcium), 200 g yogurt: 2-4 servings a day
  • Fiber is excellent in helping to avoid constipation and promote a feeling of fullness, but too much is counterproductive

Plenty of water should be given to all children. Milk can be used as a contribution to morning and afternoon tea. Snacks should be appealing and nutritious, such as small amounts of freshly cut brightly colored vegetable sticks with delicious hummus or tomato ketchup (without added sugar or salt).

All food meant for children should be prepared and stored with excellent hygiene and flavor, without too much heat or spice.

Discretionary foods are to be added to the diet only on occasion and in small quantities. These include unnecessary sources of saturated fats, sugars and salt, such as cakes, desserts and processed foods.

How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits

  • Eating together as a family
  • Enjoying foods from all these groups as often as possible to help children imitate the example of older siblings and parents
  • Encouraging them to help select healthy colored fruits, vegetables, and healthy meats or other foods during grocery shopping
  • Letting them help with food preparation especially from the vegetable and pulses group
  • Preparing tasty soups and broths, which pack a lot of fiber and nutrition into a form that is easily edible and looks appealing
  • Stocking fruits rather than fruit juice and chews, and cold water rather than soda or other sweetened drinks
  • Starting the day off with a good breakfast
  • Sharing interesting information about how foods are grown and how they reach the local market
  • Encourage active outdoors play or work before or between meals for at least an hour a day

Weight Management Guide for Overweight Children

Behaviors to Modify

It is also important to modify the behaviors that led your child to become overweight. These behaviors may prevent weight loss or encourage weight to be regained.

Behaviors you’ll want to modify include:

  • Limiting Television: you should limit television viewing to about one or two hours each day (this includes playing video games or using the computer). Watching television doesn’t use up many calories and it encourages eating unhealthy foods and unhealthy habits.
  • Healthy Eating Habits: your child should eat three well-balanced meals of average size each day, plus two nutritious snacks. Discourage skipping meals (especially breakfast).
  • Snacks: you should limit snacks to two each day and they can include low-calorie foods, such as raw fruits or vegetables. Avoid using high calorie or high-fat foods for snacks, especially chips, cookies, etc.
  • Drinking: you should encourage your child to drink four to six glasses of water each day, especially before meals. Water has no calories and it will help you to feel full. Other drinks can include diet sodas and low-fat milk. Avoid letting your child drink regular soft drinks or fruit juices, as they are high in calories (150-170 calories per serving).
  • Diet Journal: help your child to keep a weekly journal of food and beverage intake and also of the amount of time that is spent watching television, playing video games and exercising.1 You can also record your child’s weight each week (but do not weight your child every day).

Calories and Serving Sizes

It is not necessary to count calories, but you and your child should become more educated about the foods you eat and how many calories they contain. You should begin to routinely check the nutrition label of the foods that your family is eating.

You want to try and eat foods low in calories and also low in fat. Be careful of low fat or “diet” foods, as they can still be high in calories even though they are low in fat.

Check the serving size of prepared meals and snacks. A serving of chips may only have 200 calories, but if the serving size is only 10 chips, eating the entire bag would be over 1,000 calories just for a snack.

Some eating habits that will help your child lose weight include:

  • Healthy Meals. Your child needs three well-balanced meals of average size each day. Prepare foods that are baked, broiled, or steamed, rather than fried in fat. A healthy meal can include a small serving of lean meat and a large serving of vegetables.
  • Single Servings. Avoid serving seconds of the main course or dessert. If your child is still hungry, encourage them to have more salad or vegetables.
  • Desserts. Serve fresh fruit as a dessert. Ice cream, cookies, cake, or other high-calorie foods should be treats, not frequent staples.
  • Grocery shopping. Stock up on low-calorie and low-fat meals, snacks, and desserts. Choose low-fat or skim milk and diet drinks. Avoid stocking your pantry with high-calorie desserts or snacks, such as snack chips, regular soft drinks, or regular ice cream.
  • Eat at the table. Avoid letting your child eat meals or snacks outside of the kitchen or dining room. You might want to make it a house rule that no one eats while watching TV.
  • Avoid Fast Food. Limit high-fat, high-calorie trips to the drive-thru. If you’ll be traveling or having meals outside your home, pack healthy options.

Be a Good Role Model

To help get your child motivated to exercise and eat more healthily, it is very important that you provide them with a healthy lifestyle that they can model their own life after.

This includes having healthy eating habits and participating in a regular exercise program. Also, limit how much time the family watches television.

Protect Your Child’s Self Esteem

While it is important to help your child reach a more healthy weight, it is not as important as maintaining their self-esteem.

You can support your child’s weight loss efforts through what you do and say.

  • Never tell your child that they are “fat.”
  • Avoid strict diets and withholding or depriving your child of food when they are hungry.
  • Don’t overly nag your child about their weight or eating habits.

Healthy Diet for Adolescents (Ages 12-18)

The teen years are a time to grow and change. The foods that teens eat need to support this process. Here are some ways to help your teen eat healthier.

Key Parts of Healthy Eating

Get Enough Calories

Teens need a lot of calories to support their growth and to fuel their bodies. The amount that your teen needs depends on age, sex, and the calories that he or she burns through activity. Most teen girls need about 2,200 calories each day. Teen boys need 2,500 to 3,000 calories each day.

It is easy to eat too many calories by making poor food choices. This can lead to being overweight or obese. Make sure your teen gets the amount of calories they need by:

  • Giving them healthful foods from all food groups
  • Not giving them foods that are high in sugar or fat, such as candy bars, chips, cakes, cookies, donuts, and sugary drinks
  • Giving your teen just enough food and then letting your teen have more if they are still hungry (serving too much food at one time can lead to overeating)

Key Nutrients

Your teen needs:

  • Carbohydrates (carbs): This is your teen’s main source of energy. About half of their calories should come from carbs. Your teen should choose healthy carbs like whole grains, fruits, veggies, and milk.
  • Protein: Your teen needs protein to grow and build muscle. About a quarter of your teen’s calories should come from protein. Good sources are poultry, lean meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, soy, legumes, and low-fat and nonfat dairy products.
  • Fat: Teens need about a quarter of their calories as fat. It helps with growth. Fat also helps the body take in vitamins and keep the skin healthy. Your teen should eat healthy fats, such as those found in vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, olives, and fatty fish.

Vitamins and Minerals

Many teens, mainly girls, do not get enough vitamins and minerals. Ask the doctor if your teen should take vitamins.

Here are some vitamins and minerals that teens often do not get enough of:

Vitamin or MineralRoleGood Sources
CalciumHelps to build strong bones and teethMilk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, orange juice with calcium, cereal with calcium, and canned salmon
FolateHelps with growthOrange juice, breakfast cereals with folate, bread, milk, dried beans, and lentils
IronNeeded to carry red blood cells; not getting enough from the foods you eat can lead to iron-deficiency anemiaMeat, chicken, fish, and breakfast cereal with iron
ZincHelps with growth and sexual maturationChicken, meat, shellfish, whole grains, and breakfast cereal with zinc
Vitamin ANeeded for eyesight and growth and to help the immune system workCarrots, breakfast cereal with vitamin A, milk, and cheese
Vitamin DNeeded for the body to use the calcium that your teen eatsMilk with vitamin D, salmon, and egg yolks—the sun lets your body make vitamin D, but be aware of the dangers of getting too much sun
Vitamin EHelps protect the body from harmNuts, seeds, whole grains, spinach, and breakfast cereal with vitamin E
MagnesiumHelps keep the heart in rhythm, builds strong bones, and keeps blood pressure within a normal range

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