How Much Nutrition Do Teenagers Need a Day?

Getting the right amount of calories and healthy foods daily helps ensure that teens get the proper nutrition they need to grow and develop at an appropriate pace -- while avoiding excess weight. Eating a nutrient-dense diet also helps your teen boost lean muscle mass, keep energy levels high and maximize focus at school.

Calorie Needs

Active teenagers require more calories than inactive teens to maintain a healthy weight. Overweight teenagers should consult with a doctor or dietitian on ways to move toward a healthier body weight. In many cases, teens should focus on boosting their physical activity level rather than restricting calories for weight loss.

Protein and Dairy

The Institute of Medicine notes that teen boys ages 14 to 18 need 52 grams of protein daily, while teen girls generally require 46 grams of protein per day. Active teens and teen athletes often need additional protein. Healthy, protein-rich options include:

  • poultry
  • lean meat
  • fish
  • eggs
  • soy products
  • low-fat dairy foods
  • legumes
  • seeds
  • nuts
  • seitan

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest that teens eating 1,800 to 3,200 calories daily consume 3 cups from the dairy foods group -- such as low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese -- daily.

Fruits and Veggies

Few teenagers in the United States consume the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, according to a 2009 study published in the “Medscape Journal of Medicine.” The amount of fruits and veggies teens should eat daily depends on their daily calorie needs 3.

Grains and Fats

Teenagers need a variety of foods from the grains and healthy fats, or oils, groups daily. Teens eating 2,200 calories daily need 7 ounces from the grains group and 6 teaspoons from the oils group, while teens consuming 2,800 calories daily should aim for 10 ounces of grains and 8 teaspoons of oils. A 1-ounce portion of grains equals one slice of whole grain bread; 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or oatmeal; or 1 cup of ready-to-eat whole grain cereal. A teaspoon from the oils group equals 1 tablespoon of Italian salad dressing, 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of nut butter, 1/3 ounce of nuts or seeds, 1/6 of an avocado or eight large olives.