How Many Vegetables Should You Eat Everyday?

An Age-By-Age Guide for Babies and Beyond

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Recommended Daily Servings by Age

Beautiful African American woman and her daughter cooking in the kitchen
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It's no secret vegetables are considered a ​vital part of a healthy diet. Like multivitamins that grow on vines (or bushes or under the ground), every type of veggie, from artichokes to zucchini, offers up a variety of nutrients in unique combos of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Vegetables are low in fat and calories and packed with fiber as well.

It's no wonder, then, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other health-focused organizations recommend that people include lots of vegetables in their diets.

Even so, not everyone heeds that advice. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that only one in 10 adults in this country meet the guidelines for vegetable consumption, putting those who aren't eating their veggies "at risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease," according to a 2017 CDC press release. 

An individual's ideal daily intake of produce depends on factors such as age, sex, and activity level. Click through the following age-by-age guide to the learn how many cups of veggies everyone from age 2 to 92 or older should eat each day. 

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What Counts as a Cup?

serving of broccoli
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For most vegetables, 1 cup is equal to the amount that will fill a 1-cup measuring cup. But one serving of raw leafy greens like spinach and lettuce are 2 cups, and 8 ounces of vegetable or tomato juice also counts as a 1-cup serving.

If you don't have a measuring cup or kitchen scale handy, or you don't trust yourself to eyeball amounts, here are some rough 1-cup equivalents for specific vegetables. 

  • Two medium carrots
  • Five or six broccoli florets
  • One large sweet pepper
  • One large sweet potato
  • One large ear of corn
  • One medium potato
  • One large tomato

Another way to think about it is in terms of tablespoons, which can come in handy when calculating servings for babies, toddlers, and very young children who wouldn't be able to down an entire cup of veggies in one sitting (especially since there will be other foods in the bowl or on the plate as well). There are about 16 tablespoons in a cup, so you could divvy up your child's veggie intake that way as well.

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Babies

Little child eating meal with bare hands,close up

 

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Most babies are ready to begin eating solid foods between 4 and 6 months. The most common first food is a single grain cereal, but once a little one has mastered the fine art of pushing solid food to ​the back of his mouth and swallowing, it's fine to begin introducing pureed versions of other foods. 

There's no ideal order in which to do this, so starting with vegetables is fine. In fact, it could be ideal: Babies tend to prefer sweet flavors, so if a tiny tyke gets "hooked" on applesauce and pureed pears she may not be eager to eat vegetables. By starting your little one with foods like peas, carrots, and squash you may be able to encourage a preference for these foods that will carry on into adulthood. 

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Toddlers (ages 2 to 3)

Toddlers need about one cup of vegetables per day.
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Young children ages 2 to 3 should consume 1 cup of vegetables each day. If that sounds like a lot of green beans or broccoli to expect a potentially picky little eater to put down, keep in mind that that one cup can be spread throughout the day: It doesn't have to be downed in a single sitting. 

It also means a total of 1 cup of a variety of veggies, not just one type. In other words, if your child has a relatively adventurous palate you could offer him, say, peas at breakfast (why not?), steamed broccoli at lunch, cooked green beans to dip into hummus as a snack, and roasted sweet potatoes with dinner.

Keep fat and calories in mind too: Boiled, baked, or roasted vegetables are better than fried vegetables, which have extra calories from fat.

And even if the only vegetable your toddler will eat outright is, say, corn, that's okay too. There are lots of ways to disguise vegetables so that a little kid will eat them (spinach or kale disappear into fruit smoothies, for example). One caution: Children under the age of 5 can choke on uncooked fruits and vegetables, so make sure whatever form you offer these foods​ in is safe. You could serve your tyke a quarter cup of from age two to three years should eat one cup of vegetables every day. That's one cup spread throughout the day, not one cup at each meal; one serving for a toddler may only be  2 or 3 tablespoons. It takes about 16 tablespoons to equal a cup.

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Young Children (4 to 8 years)

Children need 1 to 1.5 cups of vegetables every day.
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Both boys and girls in this age group should 1 1/2 cups of vegetables each day. Keep in mind that as with toddlers, one serving of a veggie for a little kid might be only 3 or 4 tablespoons, making it easy to spread out the entire recommended minimum over the course of a day, offering, say, green peas at one meal and mashed sweet potatoes at another. 

In terms of preparation, it's fine for 4-to-8-year-olds to eat a combination of raw and cooked veggies. Keep in mind that 4-year-olds are still at risk of choking on raw vegetables, so cut carrots, bell peppers, and so forth into pieces no larger than a half-inch long so that if your child inadvertently swallows one without chewing properly it won't get stuck in his throat. Steamed, baked, and roasted vegetables are healthier than fried, of course. 

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Tweens (9 to 13 years)

Once kids reach the tween years—ages 9 to 13—their nutritional needs begin to vary slightly based on sex. The recommended daily amount of vegetables for girls in this age group is at least 2 cups; for boys the recommendation is at least 2 1/2 cups. Note too that kids of either gender who are especially active would likely benefit from eating even more than the suggested minimum of vegetables.

There's research showing, by the way, that boys tend to eat fewer vegetables (and fruits) than girls, so if you have boys in your household you may want to be especially vigilant about their veggie intake. Offer as much variety in terms of vegetables and preparation as you can to find those that the male members of your family most enjoy. 

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Teens (14 to 18 years)

Teens need up to 3 cups of vegetables every day.
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Teenage girls ages 14 to 18 should eat at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day. Teenage boys should eat at least 3 cups of vegetables daily. Teens who are active and get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day may need even more.

Of course, as kids get older and spend more time eating away from home it can be harder to monitor their vegetable intake. And chances are even gentle and well-meaning reminders to include vegetables when making meal choices will back-fire: Teenagers are notorious for doing the opposite of what parents say. Just make sure that all family meals include a variety of healthfully prepared vegetables (raw in salads, steamed, roasted, and baked as a side dish, folded into omelets, added to soups and stews, layers on pizza, and so forth). 

It's also a good idea to make it as easy for teens (and all family members old enough to snack independently) to grab veggies between meals as it is to reach for chips: For example, keep precut carrots, celery, and bell peppers front and center in the fridge alongside hummus or guacamole for dipping. 

8

Young Adults (19 to 30 years)

Adults need up to 3 cups of vegetables every day.
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For people ages 19 to 30, the recommended daily amount of vegetables for men is at least 3 cups a day and for women, at least 2 1/2 cups. Those who exercise for at least a half hour every day should include even more vegetables in their diets. 

If you're in this age group and are finding it tough to get in all the vegetables you need each day due to a busy lifestyle, take advantage of eat-and-run options like smoothies that include vegetables (kale and spinach are good options), pre-tossed salads, and prepped-for-cooking vegetables at the grocery store. They're often a bit more expensive than whole vegetables, but if the time saved makes it easier for you to eat your veggies, it may be worth it. 

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Adults (31 to 50 years)

If you're in this age group, the amount of vegetables you should aim for if you're a woman is at least 2 1/2 cups each day and at least 3 cups if you're a man. Shoot for even more if you work out or are physically active for a half hour or more each day. Continue to stick with raw or healthfully prepared veggies—a baked or roasted potato is much more nutritious and lower in fat and calories than French fries, for example. 

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Older Adults (51 years and older)

Because the body's metabolism tends to slow with age, people 51 and older are advised to cut calories in general to prevent weight gain. This rule applies to calories from vegetables as well: Women 51 and older should dial back to around 2 cups of vegetables per day; men of the same age should get around 2 1/2 cups. 

Active older adults should continue to factor in the amount of physical activity they get, however. If you're in this age group, talk to your doctor or see a nutritionist if you'd like more specific guidance about the amount of vegetables—and other foods—you should include in your diet each day to live a healthy lifestyle as you age. 

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