How Much Food Should I Eat Per Meal


How much food should i eat per meal? There are a lot of factors to consider when trying to decide how much food to eat per meal. Knowing how much you should eat in order to lose, gain, or maintain your weight is important. Because if you eat more than your body needs, it might eventually burn it off and turn the extra calories into fat. And if you don’t get in enough calories, your body may use muscle to create energy instead of fat.

How much food should I eat each day?

How much food you need depends on many factors, including your height, age, sex, general state of health, job, leisure time activities, physical activities, genetics, body size, environmental factors, body composition and what medications you may be taking.

Optimum food intake depends on how many calories you need.

It is not always as simple as calories in versus calories out when it comes to weight, but if you consume more each day than you use up, you will usually put on weight. If you consume fewer calories than you need for energy, you will likely lose weight.

This article explains how much individuals should eat and what types of foods should be included in a healthy diet.

Fast facts on how much food to eat

Here are some key points about how much food to eat. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • If you consume more calories than you burn off, you are likely to put on weight
  • To lose weight, reducing calorie intake and increasing the number of calories you burn is essential
  • It is important to eat a variety of natural foods to stay healthy

Daily calorie requirements

Box of groceries including fruits and vegetables
The amount of food a person should eat each day depends on a huge variety of factors.

How much you should eat depends on what your aims are. Do you want to maintain your body weight, lose or gain weight, or prepare for a sports event?

Any focus on food intake is closely linked with calorie consumption.

Calories are a measure of how much energy there is in the food we eat. Understanding calories helps us work out how much food we need to eat.

Different foods have a different number of calories per gram or ounce of weight.

Below are some general daily calorie requirements for males and females. A low active level means taking part in 30-60 minutes of moderate activity each day, such as walking at 3-4 miles per hour. Active level means at least 60 minutes of moderate activity each day.

Daily calorie requirement for males:

AgeSedentary levelLow active levelActive level
2-3 years1,1001,3501,500
4-5 years1,2501,4501,650
6-7 years1,4001,6001,800
8-9 years1,5001,7502,000
10-11 years1,7002,0002,300
12-13 years1,9002,2502,600
14-16 years2,3002,7003,100
17-18 years2,4502,9003,300
19-30 years2,5002,7003,000
31-50 years2,3502,6002,900
51-70 years2,1502,3502,650
71+ years2,0002,2002,500

Daily calorie requirement for females:

AgeSedentary levelLow active levelActive level
2-3 years1,1001,2501,400
4-5 years1,2001,3501,500
6-7 years1,3001,5001,700
8-9 years1,4001,6001,850
10-11 years1,5001,8002,050
12-13 years1,7002,0002,250
14-16 years1,7502,1002,350
17-18 years1,7502,1002,400
19-30 years1,9002,1002,350
31-50 years1,8002,0002,250
51-70 years1,6501,8502,100
71+ years1,5501,7502,000

People aiming for a healthy body weight will need to check the calorie content of the food they eat so that they can compare how much they are burning against their consumption.

How much food do I need per day?

This section explains how much of each food type we should eat per day, such as fruit, vegetables, grains, milk, and meat, or alternatives to dairy or meat.

According to Health Canada, people should consume these recommended numbers of servings each day. For information on serving sizes, check the next section.

Age 2-3 years: Fruit and vegetables 4, Grains 3, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat (and alternatives) 1.

Age 4-8 years: Fruit and vegetables 5, Grains 4, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat (and alternatives) 1.

Age 9-13 years: Fruit and vegetables 6, Grains 6, Milk (and alternatives) 3-4, Meat (and alternatives) 1-2.

Age 14-18 years (male): Fruit and vegetables 8, Grains 7, Milk (and alternatives) 3-4, Meat (and alternatives) 3.

Age 14-18 years (female): Fruit and vegetables 7, Grains 6, Milk (and alternatives) 3-4, Meat (and alternatives) 2.

Age 19-50 years (male): Fruit and vegetables 8-10, Grains 8, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat or alternatives 3.

Age 19-50 years (female): Fruit and vegetables 7-8, Grains 6-7, Milk (and alternatives) 2, Meat (and alternatives) 2.

Age 51+ years (male): Fruit and vegetables 7, Grains 7, Milk (and alternatives) 3, Meat (and alternatives) 3.

Age 51+ years (female): Fruit and vegetables 7, Grains 6, Milk (and alternatives) 3, Meat (and alternatives) 3.

Serving sizes

This is a reference amount to help us determine how much of the four groups of foods we should consume each day. Look at the examples below:

Half a regular-sized can of vegetables such as chickpeas constitutes one serving.
  • Fruit and vegetables: 1 piece of fruit, half a cup of fruit juice, half a cup of canned or frozen fruit or vegetables, 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables or salad
  • Grains: Half a bagel, 1 slice of bread, half a tortilla, half a pitta, half a cup of cooked couscous, rice or pasta, one ounce of cold cereal, three-quarters of a cup of hot cereal
  • Milk and alternatives: 1 cup milk, 1 cup of soy drink, three-quarters of a cup of yogurt, 1 and a half ounces of cheese
  • Meat and alternatives: 2 and a half ounces of cooked fish, lean meat, poultry or lean meat, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter

Consuming fruit and vegetables: Experts say you should consume at least one dark green and one orange colored vegetable each day. Examples of dark green vegetables include spinach, kale, and broccoli.

Go for fruit and vegetables with either no sugar, salt, or fat, or at least as little as possible. It is recommended to steam, bake, or stir fry the vegetables. Limit or avoid foods that are deep fried. Whole fruit and vegetables are a better choice than their juices, as they provide more nutrients and fiber. They are also more filling which can deter overeating.

Consuming grains: Health authorities say we should aim for whole grains for at least half our grain consumption. Go for variety, including wild rice, quinoa, oats, brown rice, and barley. Whole grain pasta, oatmeal, and breads are better than those made from refined cereals.

A good grain should not have a high sugar, salt, or fat content. Alternatives to grains that contain many of the same nutrients are beans, legumes, quinoa, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and peas.

Consuming milk (and alternatives): Consume 2 cups per day for good vitamin D and calcium intake. If you don’t drink milk, have fortified drinks. Limit your intake of milk with added sugars and other sweeteners. Low-fat milk may be recommended if you are limiting your total fat or saturated fat intake for heart health reasons.

Meat and alternative: Make sure you are eating alternatives, such as tofu, lentils, and beans regularly. It is recommended to have fish at least twice a week. Beware of certain types of fish for mercury exposure. Opt for lean meats, such as chicken or turkey.

Rather than frying, try roasting, baking, or poaching. If you are eating processed or prepackaged meat, select low-salt and low-fat ones. Limit your overall intake of processed meats since you may have an increased risk for cancer with regular intake.

When eating carbohydrates, choose unrefined carbs, such as whole grains, which are high in fiber and release energy slowly, so that you feel full for longer.

Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats as much as possible. It is recommended to consume not more than 10 percent of your total calories from saturated fat. Plant oils, fish, and nuts are the best sources.

Make sure to get plenty of fiber. When eating fruit and vegetables, eat a variety of colors. If you are not a great milk-drinker, make sure your consumption of calcium is adequate.

If your main concern is to know how much food you should eat, you still have to be aware of their calorie values. With high-calorie foods, the quantity will have to be less, while with lower-calorie ones you can eat more.

How many calories a meal is too much?

Nutrition experts estimate that average daily consumption at each meal should be broken down as follows: 300 to 400 calories for breakfast, and 500 to 600 calories for lunch and dinner.

Breakfast and lunch are the most important meals of the day, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which recommends that adults eat breakfast at least three to four times a day and eat lunch between 2 and 3 p.m.

The recommended daily calorie intake for adults in the U.S. is 2,500 to 3,000 calories, depending on gender, age, height, weight and activity level.

When should I eat my biggest meal?

Most people think dinner should be the biggest meal of the day, meaning they choose a light breakfast and lunch. According to research, a smaller dinner and larger lunch can help you lose weight. The researchers found a significant association between the size of a meal and BMI, with the smallest meals being associated with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, while the largest meals had an average BMI between 25.0 and 29.4.

In other words, if you eat a small meal, you’re more likely to gain weight than someone who eats a larger meal. The researchers also found an inverse correlation between BMI and portion size, which means that people who eat larger portions of food tend to have a higher BMI than those who consume smaller portions.

What is considered a small meal?

Other small meal ideas include tuna, egg, chicken, tofu salad or hummus. You can have a cup of soup. Eggs arescrambled, hard-boiled, or an omelet with vegetables and cheese. A side of mashed potatoes and gravy can be added to the mashed potato bowl.

Make a big pot of soup and top it with veggies, meat, cheese, and/or fruit. You can also make a large salad and serve it on a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, celery, green beans, or other vegetables.

What’s the minimum calories needed to survive?

A minimum of 2000 calories is what most adults need. (AHA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend that adults consume no more than 2,300 calories per day. ACSM also recommend a daily calorie limit of 1,500 calories for women and 1.2 for men, based on a person’s height, weight, age, gender and activity level.

Tips to Measure and Control Portion Sizes

Obesity is a growing epidemic, as more people than ever are struggling to control their weight.

Increased portion sizes are thought to contribute to overeating and unwanted weight gain.

Research indicates that many factors can influence how much you eat.

People tend to eat almost all of what they serve themselves. Therefore, controlling portion sizes can help prevent overindulging.

Here are 9 tips to measure and control portion sizes — both at home and on the go.

1. Use Smaller Dinnerware

Evidence suggests that sizes of plates, spoons and glasses can unconsciously influence how much food someone eats.

For example, using large plates can make food appear smaller — often leading to overeating.

In one study, people using a large bowl ate 77% more pasta than those using a medium-sized bowl.

In another study, nutritional experts served themselves 31% more ice cream when given larger bowls and 14.5% more when provided with larger serving spooon.

Interestingly, most people who ate more due to large dishes were completely unaware of the change in portion size.

Therefore, swapping your usual plate, bowl or serving spoon for a smaller alternative can reduce the helping of food and prevent overeating.

Most people feel just as full having eaten from a smaller dish as from a large one.

Summary Simply
using smaller dishes or glasses can lower the amount of food or drink you
consume. What’s more, people tend to feel just as satisfied.

2. Use Your Plate as a Portion Guide

If measuring or weighing food isn’t appealing, try using your plate or bowl as a portion control guide.

This can help you determine the optimal macronutrient ratio for a well-balanced meal.

A rough guide for each meal is:

  • Vegetables or salad: Half a plate
  • High-quality protein: Quarter
    of a plate — this includes meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, tofu, beans
    and pulses
  • Complex carbs: Quarter of a plate — such
    as whole grains and starchy vegetables
  • High-fat foods: Half a tablespoon (7 grams)
    — including cheese, oils and butter

Remember that this is a rough guide, as people have different dietary needs. For example, those who are more physically active often require more food.

As vegetables and salad are naturally low in calories but high in fiber and other nutrients, filling up on these may help you avoid overeating calorie-dense foods.

If you want extra guidance, some manufacturers sell portion-control plates.

Summary Using a
plate as a guide for portion control can help you curb total food intake. You
can divide your plate into sections based on different food groups.

3. Use Your Hands as a Serving Guide

Another way to gauge appropriate portion size without any measuring tools is by simply using your hands.

As your hands usually correspond to your body size, bigger people who require more food typically have bigger hands.

A rough guide for each meal is:

  • High-protein foods: A palm-sized serving for women and two
    palm-sized portions for men — such as meat, fish, poultry and beans
  • Vegetables and salads: A fist-sized portion for women and two
    fist-sized portions for men
  • High-carb foods: One cupped-hand portion for women and
    two for men — such as whole grains and starchy vegetables
  • High-fat foods: One thumb-sized portion for women and
    two for men — such as butter, oils and nuts

Summary Your
hands can be a helpful guide for portion sizes. Different food groups
correspond to various shapes and parts of your hands.

4. Ask for a Half Portion When Eating Out

Restaurants are notorious for serving large portions.

In fact, restaurant serving sizes are, on average, about 2.5 times larger than standard serving sizes — and up to a whopping eight times larger.

If you are eating out, you can always ask for a half portion or a children’s dish.

This will save you a lot of calories and help prevent overeating.

Alternatively, you could share a meal with someone or order a starter and side instead of a main dish.

Other tips include ordering a side salad or vegetables, asking for sauces and dressings to be served separately and avoiding buffet-style, all-you-can-eat restaurants where it’s very easy to overindulge.

Summary Restaurant
portions tend to be at least twice the size of a regular portion. Prevent
overeating by asking for a half portion, ordering a starter instead of a main
dish and avoiding buffet-style restaurants.

5. Start All Meals With a Glass of Water

Drinking a glass of water up to 30 minutes before a meal will naturally aid portion control.

Filling up on water will make you feel less hungry. Being well hydrated also helps you distinguish between hunger and thirst.

One study in middle-aged and older adults observed that drinking 17 ounces (500 ml) of water before each meal resulted in a 44% greater decline in weight over 12 weeks, most likely due to reduced food intake.

Similarly, when overweight and obese older adults drank 17 ounces (500 ml) of water 30 minutes before a meal, they consumed 13% fewer calories without trying to make any changes.

In another study in young normal-weight men, drinking a similar amount of water immediately before a meal resulted in greater feelings of fullness and reduced food intake.

Therefore, having a glass of water before each meal can help prevent overeating and aid portion control.

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