Calculating your family's calorie needs

Calculating your family's calorie needs

Everyone's calories are different depending on age and level of activity

calorie needs

We all need calories: 

  • to keep our body systems working properly (that's our metabolism), 
  • to replace what we lose (in our sweat and excretions), 
  • to keep us able to perform our activities (even the simple ones like walking), 
  • to promote growth and muscle repair 

Calories are the way we measure the energy we use and that we get from our foods to supply that energy. Most of us fit within an average range of calorie needs based on our age, gender, size, and activity level. Average activity level can be determined based on whether someone has: 

  • little activity (sedentary, sitting, watching TV, playing video games)
  • moderate activity (walking, dancing, rollerblading, skateboarding)
  • vigorous activity (basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming)

Remember that for some, moderate activity can become vigorous activities and the same is true for the vigorous activities (some will perform them more leisurely).  Of course, the time and effort spent doing them will help you decide where you and your children fit in these general categories.

Children who eat and drink more than the calories they need will also need more activities to burn off those extra calories or they will gain weight. An extra slice of bread, just one, or an extra apple adds an extra 100 calories a day. That adds up to 3000 calories in a month. It only takes an extra 3500 calories to add a pound. So imagine what an extra soda or juice at 160 calories in a can will do. That will add almost 1 1/2 pounds a month or 16 extra pounds a year.

An important note: American nutrition labels show the percentage of nutrients based on a 2000 calorie diet. It can be misleading if you or your family eats more or less than the 2000 calorie range. For example, a food that provides 20% of a certain nutrient may actually be providing much more (like for a toddler) or much less (for a bodybuilder). You can go to our USDA Food Labels in the tools section that will recalculate your and your family's needs for every food based on your age group. You can also use our Nutrition Information Tool and review the calorie and nutrients for common packaged and restaurant foods. 

Bottom line

Every member of the family has unique calorie needs. The USDA recommendations can help estimate the average calories you and your family need per day based on everyone's  age, gender, and activity level.