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The Average Calories Per Day Needed to Be Healthy

By Michele Turcotte, MS, RD

For general healthy eating, many nutrition experts recommend eating three meals and two to three snacks daily. Why? Eating more frequently throughout the day keeps your metabolism elevated and your body energized from morning until night. Calories should be divided evenly throughout the day. Calorie needs are not one-size-fits-all, but there are general guidelines for children, adolescents, and adult men and women.

Infants and Children

Estimated Energy Requirement (EER) is the dietary energy intake measured in calories that is needed to maintain energy balance in healthy, moderately active Americans. There are EERs for every age group. A great deal of growth takes place the first year of life. After that, growth slows until the age of 4. Males and females ages 1 to 3 years, of normal weight, approximately 27 lbs., need 1,046 and 992 calories to maintain health, respectively. When children reach the age of 4, calorie needs increase dramatically. Males and females ages 4 to 8 years, of normal weight, approximately 44 lbs., need 1,742 and 1,642 calories daily, respectively. Both groups require more protein than adults per kilogram of body weight, so it is especially important that the foods infants and children consume is nutritious.


Adolescence is the period of life between about 11 and 21 years of age. The timing of puberty and rates of growth vary greatly. Puberty may begin as early as age 10 for girls. During this time, males put on twice as much muscle as females, and females gain proportionally more fat. Males aged 9 to 13 years, of average height and weight, or about 57 inches tall and 79 lbs., require 2,279 calories daily. Females, ages 9 to 13, of average height and weight, or about 57 inches tall and 81 lbs., require fewer calories, about 2,071 daily for optimum health.

Calorie needs jump for both males and females ages 14 to 18 years, when growth spurts occur. Males in this age group, approximately 68 inches tall and 134 lbs., require 3,152 calories daily. Females in this age group, approximately 64 inches tall and 119 lbs., require nearly 2,370 calories daily.


Young adults, ages 19 to 30 years, require more calories to be healthy than later in life. Males, approximately 70 inches tall and 154 lbs., need almost 3,100 calories daily. Females of an average height and weight (64 inches tall and 126 lbs.) still need as much energy as when they were adolescents--just over 2,400 calories daily. Energy, or calorie, needs vary greatly in adulthood and depend upon weight, activity level, basal metabolic rate and other factors. To be healthy, after age 30, most males require 2,200 to 3,000 calories, and women, 1,600 to 2,400. The EER decreases by about 10 percent every decade beyond age 30. Relative body weight (loss, stable, gain) is the preferred indicator of energy needs and/or adequacy.

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