How Many Calories Should 15 and 16 Year-Olds Eat?

Being 15 or 16 years old is surely sweet, but it is also a time when knowing how many calories to consume can be confusing. Calories are needed for teenagers to keep up energy and promote proper development. So, how many calories should 15 and 16-year olds eat?

In general, 15-year and 16-year old girls need 2,000 calories per day, 15-year old boys need 2,400 calories per day, and 16-year old boys need 2,800 calories per day. Initially that may seem like a lot, but eating foods from a variety of food groups is absolutely key to getting the nutrients needed in this stage of life. Developing healthy habits during the crucial teen years can help teens feel both fueled and fit.   

Read on to learn everything you need to know about calories and daily food choices for keeping 15 and 16 year-olds healthy and happy. 

Image courtesy of Katerina Holmes

How Many Calories Does a 15 or 16 Year Old Need?

The following chart from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics can help you and your teen find out the appropriate amount of calories to eat each day. 

Without calories, teenagers wouldn’t be able to perform daily activities. Calories eaten in a day fuel breathing, walking, running, laughing, blood-pumping, sports, concentrating in school, and more. The recommended high intake of calories for teens during this stage of life accounts for the dramatic “spurts” of growth that happen during adolescence. 

Why are Calorie Recommendations Different for Boys and Girls?

Calorie needs can vary depending on many factors. These factors include age, sex, height, and level of activity. Other than the differing calorie requirements, the nutritional needs of teens during this life stage are basically the same. 

Nutrition needs for teen boys are higher since 15 and 16 year old boys are, on average, physically bigger. They also have more lean muscle mass generally, resulting in nutritional recommendations that are on average higher than a teen girl’s requirements. Teen boys in this age range generally need around 2,000-3,200 calories each day

However, teen girls have specific calorie requirements of their own. To maintain a healthy body weight, teen girls that are 15 and 16 years old need approximately 1,800 to 2,400 calories daily

How are Calories and Nutrients Related?

The amount of calorie content in a food depends on the combination of carbohydrate, protein, and fat that food contains. Many foods have a mix of these macronutrients. Carbohydrates and protein each provide four calories per gram. Fat provides nine calories per gram, making it important to eat healthy nutrient-dense fats since calories from fat add up faster. 

Carbohydrate, protein, and fats are called collectively macronutrients. Individual vitamins and minerals are termed micronutrients. Food provides both, so it is important to note that calories aren’t the only measure of how “healthy” a food is. Some foods can be high in calories but provide many essential nutrients.

What Should 15 and 16-Year Olds Look for on Labels?

When teenagers are looking at food labels, they shouldn’t only consider the calorie count. Specific nutrients of concern in teenage diets include the following: 

Try to increase intake of these nutrients by finding foods with higher percentages or content of these nutrients (listed on the label, usually under %DV or Daily Value). 

What Should 15 and 16-Year Olds Eat?

Knowing calorie levels is only part of the puzzle for health. What you eat is just as important as how much you eat.

What are the Food Group Recommendations for Teenagers ages 15 and 16?

The following image shows the most recent dietary guidelines for teenagers. Remember, the average 15 and 16-year old needs approximately 2,200-2,800 calories a day, depending on many factors. Check your food group serving recommendations based on calorie level here:

Based on the chart recommendations, the average 15-year and 16-year old girl at 2,000 calories per day should eat:

  • Vegetables– 2 1/2 servings per day (and specific subcategories)
  • Fruit– 2 servings per day
  • Grains– 6 servings per day (and specific subcategories)
  • Dairy– 3 servings per day
  • Protein Foods– 5 1/2 servings per day (and specific subcategories)

The average 15-year old boy needs 2,400 calories per day, and 16-year old boys need 2,800 calories per day. Check the chart for specific food group intakes per day. A variety of food from each of the food groups is best.

See also: Is it OK for Teens to be Dairy-Free? Tips from a Dietitian Nutritionist

How Much Protein Should a 15 or 16-Year Old Get?

Needs for protein increase during the teenage years. During this life stage, 15 and 16-year olds need an average of 46-52 grams of protein per day.  

This equals about 5 ½ ounces of protein-rich foods a day. The size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards is about 3 ounces, so it can help to visualize that size to know how many servings to eat when eating chicken, pork, steak, fish, etc.  

Often teens, especially athletes, believe they need to ingest excessive amounts of protein powder to build muscle. Eating plenty of lean or plant-based protein in the diet is just as effective a measure.  

Try these proteins instead of taking too much protein powder

  • Lean meats (i.e. chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef or pork)
  • Fish
  • Nuts butters and nuts
  • Eggs
  • Canned chicken
  • Ground turkey
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Lentils 
  • Beans and peas
  • Hummus 
  • Skinless poultry
  • Seafood of fish
  • Soy foods
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

See also:

How Much Fat Should My 15 or 16-Year Old Get?

Growing 15 and 16-year olds may be worried about fat. However, fat is necessary for a number of body functions and helps improve nutrient absorption.  

Teenage boys and girls ages 15 and 16 should obtain 25-35% of their calories from healthy (unsaturated) sources of dietary fat. Girls on an 2,000 calorie daily diet should aim for 56-78 grams coming from dietary fat. Boys in this same age range on a 2,500 calorie diet need around 69-97 grams of fat each day. 

Healthy fats include food choices with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The following options offer the benefits of fat without an excessive level of calories: 

  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fatty fish
  • Nut butters
  • Olives 

Be sure to include healthy fats everyday as part of a balanced diet.

Are There Any Specific Nutrients 15 and 16-Year Olds Should Eat?

It might seem overwhelming trying to figure out how many servings of each food to eat in a day. Sometimes, the healthiest approach is to think about which nutrients you need or which food group you may be falling short in and work back from there. Here are some important nutrients teenagers should focus on: vitamins/minerals, calcium, fiber, and iron.

Vitamins and Minerals

Fruits and vegetables are simply some of the best sources of vitamins and minerals. Whole fruits and veggies and 100% fruit juices are some of the most healthful options. Fresh, frozen, or canned varieties provide plenty of nutrients and make meal prep easy. 

Popular plant favorites include: 

  • Frozen berries
  • Melon slices
  • 100% orange juice
  • Baby carrots
  • Sliced apples
  • Broccoli 
  • Corn 
  • Sliced peppers
  • Frozen peas
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Cucumber slices
  • Kiwis


Calcium is an extra important mineral to focus on consuming regularly. During the teenage years, the calcium from food is used in the body to help healthy bones develop. Regular exercise also helps to fortify bones and muscles — not to mention it can boost mood, too! 

Teens ages 15 and 16 should be eating at least 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. This can generally be accomplished by eating three 1-cup servings of foods rich in calcium. These foods include, but aren’t limited to, the following options: 

  • Low-fat dairy
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese or string cheese
  • Soy milk, yogurt, butter, and calcium-set tofu
  • Vegetable or plant-based oils (i.e. olive, canola, sunflower, safflower)
  • Fortified dairy alternatives
  • Eggs

It’s true that your body can absorb a higher percentage of the calcium from some non-dairy calcium foods, but dairy still has more calcium per serving. Other foods with a low to moderate amount of calcium include: (recommended 3-5 servings per day of the following)

  • Dark green leafy vegetables (collard greens, bok choy, turnip greens, broccoli, kale)
  • Canned salmon or sardines with bones
  • Some canned beans (white beans, chickpeas, black beans)
  • Some nuts and almonds


Whole grains are high in fiber and also an excellent source of energy since they are high in B-vitamins. Teens that are 15 and 16-years old should eat at least 6 ounces of grains each day, with 3 or more of those coming from whole grains. Fiber is found in many other foods as well.

Here’s a list of healthful foods and food groups that fiber is naturally found in: 

  • Whole grains (i.e. quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain pasta, whole grain crackers)
  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Beans (canned beans can be a great pantry staple)
  • Popcorn 
  • Lentils
  • Chia seeds (easy to add to oatmeal, smoothies, baked goods)
  • Avocado

Iron Intake

In addition to the other nutrients, 15 and 16-year olds should be aware of their iron levels. Due to menstruation and the growing blood volume during the teen years, girls are at increased risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Boys also need iron especially during this life stage — as lean body mass doubles between ages 10 and 17, iron supports a healthy growth trajectory. 

Iron is crucial to immunity and many body functions, so it is a nutrient of increased attention at this life stage. Eating iron sources with vitamin C foods (i.e. citrus, 100% orange juice, grapefruit) helps to increase absorption of the iron. 

Enriched grain products, such as fortified breakfast cereals, also contain iron. However, whole foods often offer a better nutrient profile. Foods naturally high in iron include: 

  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Lean meats
  • Legumes
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Spinach 
  • Raisins

Girls that are 15 or 16 years old need around 15 milligrams of iron daily while boys of the same age need about 11 milligrams each day. If you or your teen are wondering about iron levels, mention your concerns to your dietitian and healthcare team. You may want to follow-up with blood tests to ensure that the appropriate treatment plan or supplementation regimen has been recommended. 

Vegan or vegetarian teens need to be especially aware of iron needs. It can be a good idea to check blood levels regularly in order to be aware of any supplementation needs to ensure healthy teens. See also: Can a 14 Year-Old Go Vegan?

Five Tips for 15 and 16-Year Olds (And Their Parents) 

When it comes to feeding and nourishing your teen, it’s helpful to have the real advice of a nutrition professional. Here are several tips for teenagers struggling to figure out eating patterns and calories: 

  1. Have an approachable plan for disordered eating patterns. The National Eating Disorders Association Helpline can assist you or your teen with thoughts or patterns of disordered eating. Remember — it is okay to ask for help! That’s what dietitians and other health professionals are here for. 
  2. Build a positive, trusting relationship and not restriction based rules. Too strict a set of rules, such as no candy at all in the house, doesn’t give teens a chance to practice valuable skills. In fact, knowing your teen can choose a healthier option over an available indulgence can give you a sense of trust for when they must make good choices away from home. 
  3. Learn more about the Nutrition Facts Label. The label found on foods changes from time to time. Stay updated by reviewing the most recent set of changes
  4. Model positive patterns. Parents can model positive eating behaviors and provide healthful foods to the family to show what accountable eating looks like. Guardians can also set an example by not focusing on a teen’s feelings of being “gangly” or “too fat”. It’s important to validate feelings, but place the significance of health on the joy of eating well and eating healthily to fuel strong bodies. 
  5. Know that “healthy” doesn’t have a look. Health can occur at any size, and that’s important to keep in mind. Body image is important and can feel concerning, but as long as a teen is receiving the proper amount of nutrients then they should be strong and healthy. Inner health is more indicative of nourishment than external appearance.

If you are interested in weight loss as a teenager, it’s important to learn what advice is real and legitimate, and what just comes from fad diets and harmful sources. I’ve written an e-Book guide and month-long meal plan to help teens establish habits that will help them get to a healthy weight and maintain it. It will help teens develop attitudes and behaviors that will lead to a positive relationship with food and nutrition throughout their lives.

Mockup Teen Weight Loss eBook

The book is available in the Downloads section of my website here – Downloadable Content.

Related Resources

Sample meals and diet plans from dietitians can help guide eating choices for 15 and 16-year olds. Developing healthy habits now in the teenage years is crucial to keeping healthy habits in the future for lifelong benefits. 

Here is a list of related articles that may help guide teen eating: 

The Bottom Line

Getting enough calories is a crucial part of keeping 15 and 16-year olds healthy. While requirements for calories may differ, boys and girls should both eat varied diets full of nutrient-rich foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, legumes). Parents of teens can model healthy habits to encourage their adolescents to become adults with healthy eating habits. 

Related Questions

How Many Calories Does a 15-Year Old Male Need? A 15-year old male typically needs 2,600 calories per day based on several factors including activity level, size, growth, etc. It’s important to get enough calories and nutrients to fuel daily activities, growth, movement, digestion, breathing, and other body functions.

Calories are fuel and energy to support your body’s needs for growth, movement, digestion, brain and heart function, and other physiological processes.

How Many Calories Does a 15-Year Old Need to Lose Weight? In order to lose weight, a 15-year old may need to cut 300 to 500 calories per day, or just eat a little less at meals and snacks. For a 15-year old girl that would equal about 1,700 calories per day total and a 15-year old boy around 2,300 calories per day, depending on activity level, size, and other factors. Developing healthy eating habits can help with weight loss more than cutting calories as a teen. Speak with a doctor or dietitian to determine if weight loss is appropriate at this age.

See also: What is the Best Diet Plan for a 15 Year-Old? Tips from a Dietitian and How Can I Tell if my Teen is Overweight? Advice from a Dietitian

How Many Calories Does a 15-Year Old Need to Gain Weight? In order to gain weight, a 15-year old should add about 500 calories per day. For a 15-year old girl that would equal about 2,500 calories per day to gain weight and for a 15-year old boy, about 3,100 calories per day. Never skipping meals, always having healthy snacks on hand, and adding high-calorie foods are other helpful habits to help a teenager gain weight.

How Many Calories Does a 16-Year Old Female Burn a Day? Typically, a 16-year old female burns 2,000 calories per day, and more if physically active. 400 or more of those calories are from daily activities and exercise, 100 to 200 calories are from digesting food, and the rest (about 1,500) are from body functions such as breathing, pumping blood, brain function, etc. It’s important not to eat too few calories at this age in order to keep important body processes fueled and energized.

How Many Calories Should a 16-Year Old Consume Per Day? A 16-year old female typically needs 2,000 calories per day and a 16-year old male needs about 2,800 calories per day, depending on size, activity level, etc.

How Many Calories Does a Teenage Girl Burn a Day? A teenage girl burns around 2,000 calories per day, and more if physically active. 400 or more of those calories are from daily activities and exercise, 100 to 200 calories are from digesting food, and the rest (about 1,500) support normal body functions such as breathing, growth, pumping blood, heart and brain function, etc. Eating enough calories each day is important for a healthy body.

See Also


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. How Many Calories Does My Teen Need? Published October 4, 2019. 

Coleman E. Nutrition Difference Between Teenage Girls & Boys. Published December 9, 2018.  

Davis N. How to Eat Healthy and Well at 16 Years Old. Published January 18, 2019. 

Institutes of Medicine. Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI). Accessed April 2021. 

John Muir Health. Nutrition for Teens. Accessed April 2021.  

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutrition for Growing Bodies. Published May 28, 2020. 

Ansel K. 7 Kitchen Staples for Teen-Friendly Meals. Published March 9, 2018. 

Johnson A. Teach Your Teen about Nutrition Facts Panels. Published June 24, 2020. 

Ryan M. Give Your Teen’s Iron a Boost. Published April 2, 2019. 

United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. Published December 29, 2020. 

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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