Healthy Diet for 13-Year-Olds

Three teenagers eating pizza together.
Three teenagers eating pizza together. (Image: EduardSV/iStock/Getty Images)

Few adults would have the energy to keep up with a 13-year-old. Your teen studies, plays sports, fidgets at the dinner table and rides his bike for hours, all while going through major physical and mental growth. In order for your child to maintain developmental momentum through her teenage years, a healthy diet is essential. Keep the pantry and fridge stocked with healthy food, but allow your child to choose how much he eats to encourage him to develop responsible independence regarding his diet.

Food Energy

The calorie needs of a 13-year-old depend on the gender and activity level of the child. Sedentary teens who engage in light exercise along with regular everyday activities will need fewer calories than moderately active children who walk 1 1/2 to 2 miles on top of their day-to-day activities. An active child who walks 3 to 4 miles in addition to other activities needs the most calories. As a general rule, sedentary girls need 1,600 calories a day, moderately active girls need 2,000 calories, and active girls need 2,200 calories. A sedentary boy requires 2,000 calories daily, while a moderately active boy needs 2,200 calories, and an active boy needs 2,600 calories.

Milk, Meat and More

A young teenager needs a diverse diet rich in vitamins and minerals, but some nutrients are particularly important. Every day, 13-year-olds should get 1,200 milligrams of calcium, a mineral necessary for the formation of bones and teeth. If your child doesn't spend much time outdoors, he'll also need 600 international units of vitamin D to promote calcium absorption. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, soy milk, fortified orange juice and dark, leafy greens. Another essential nutrient is iron, which females lose through menstruation and which all teens need to build muscle mass. Meat, poultry, fish, pork, fortified bread and cereal, legumes and dried fruit are all good sources of iron. Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, promotes iron absorption.

MyPlate for Teens

The USDA MyPlate icon -- a graphic that illustrates a healthy meal -- can easily be adapted for teenagers. The icon shows a plate divided in half. One side is filled with fruits and vegetables, and the other side has protein and whole grains. To the side is a glass of milk, representing dairy. Encourage your teen to visualize a healthy plate before she serves herself a meal.

Specific MyPlate Guidelines

There are also specific MyPlate serving guidelines for 13-year-old boys and girls. These include 1 1/2 cups of fruit, 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables, and 5 to 6 ounces of whole grains. One ounce of grain equals 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, 1 slice of bread, or 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta. Five ounce equivalents of protein are recommended daily. These include 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish; 1 egg; and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. Dairy is recommended at 3 cups a day, where 2 ounces of cheese counts as a 1-cup serving. In addition, 13-year-olds should consume 5 teaspoons of healthy vegetable oils every day.

Caring for Your Teen's Whole Health

Thirteen-year-olds are at a sensitive period in their social and emotional development. Many young teens are concerned about their weight and appearance and may consider dieting. As a parent, it's important to model healthy eating and self-image, and to discourage fad diets. Watch for signs of an eating disorder in your teen, such as fear of weight gain, refusal to eat, bingeing, excessive exercise, laxative use and vomiting. Talk to your family doctor if you have any concerns about your teen's health and nutrition.

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