Well the answer really is “As much as stops them being hungry and not enough to make them feel overfull.” But if looking at adult energy amounts then the average male will need roughly 2,500 calories, female 2,000 calories a day – this is reduced slightly when aiming for healthy and sustainable fat loss.
But how much should children eat?
At the age of 10 girls need about as much as an adult woman and boys as much as an adult man but as they go through the teenage years and growth spurts their calorie requirement increases until growth stops; so that by the late teens a girl may need 2,500 calories and a boy 3,500 before they make that final growth push.
We know that both adult and childhood overweight and obesity is on the rise, yet we’re often asked “How do I know if my child is eating enough?”
So when it comes to
- Eat when hungry, stop when comfortably full.
- Adults are good to base food intake around three meals a day and minimise snacks unless they have a physiological purpose such as around exercise or if there are very long gaps between meals.
- Children and teenagers usually need more snacks. Try to keep them mainly to nourishing foods without even discussing the whys and wherefores, just make them happily and naturally available. Make up a side plate of tasty and healthy after-school food so they can just reach for it when they get home. It doesn’t have to be ‘rabbit food’ it can be a tasty sandwich, a banana and a few nuts.
- Everyone will benefit from being more generally active throughout each day. That doesn’t mean regimented exercise but walking to places including school, walking for fun, playing active games outside together and so on.
- The priority foods are real, whole, foods rather than ultra processed food, snacks and drinks.
- Puddings aren’t needed but nice to have sometimes!
- Generally limit sugary snacks and drinks but without making a thing of it around kids.
- The priority drink should be water.
Make sure everyone gets enough rest, sleep and love!
I never want to encourage you to count calories but it’s absolutely worth familiarising yourself with the relative energy values of foods so that you can approximately and subconsciously judge energy intake. It’s very dangerous practise to encourage children to calorie count or measure food, so avoid involving them in that in any way whatsoever. The vibe with them is around loving and being interested in food.
It’s so good to let children serve themselves at dinner time as they’re usually very good at moderating their intake and eating only what they need. It can also mean that they try loads more things and don’t feel overwhelmed by a large plate of food. And of course eating together, around the table, makes an environment where you tend to eat more slowly and have conversation, rather than in front of screens or on the sofa.
When people tap into natural hunger and fullness and are generally active they tend to find a natural balance without having to stress over numbers and minutiae.