Thirteen marks the beginning of the “teen” years. While all teenagers will develop at different times and rates, many will begin to experience physical changes at this age. Thirteen-year olds may also develop different physical activity and sleep patterns. These changes can significantly alter nutrient and calorie needs. So, how much should a 13-year old eat?
Moderately active 13-year old girls need to eat approximately 2,000 calories per day and moderately active 13-year old boys need approximately 2,200 calories per day. As a guideline, thirteen-year olds need around 5 or more cup servings of fruits and vegetables, 3 cup servings of dairy, 5-10 ounce (oz) servings of grains and 5-7 oz servings of protein foods daily.
Each thirteen-year-old has unique dietary needs based on gender, weight, height, activity level, medical conditions, genetics, developmental stage, and the list goes on. A thirteen-year-old should eat enough to feel energized and satisfied through the day. They should listen and appropriately respond to hunger and fullness cues. Thirteen-year olds should avoid restriction or dieting as these practices can negatively impact important growth and development.
Continue reading for more information about the appropriate eating patterns of a thirteen-year-old.
How Many Calories Does a 13-Year Old Need Every Day?
Not only do calorie needs differ widely based on the individual but will also change depending on the day for each teenager. Adolescents who participate in a day long sporting event will find they need a couple hundred more calories than on a day of mostly studying.
For this reason, thirteen-year olds should avoid counting calories with a single target in mind. Calorie counting can result in disordered eating behaviors and thoughts. Instead, they can focus on making sure each meal is balanced and contains nutrient dense foods that lead to feelings of satisfaction between eating occasions.
The following table provides estimates of calorie needs for thirteen-year olds. However, these numbers should only provide guidance and not be used as an exact determination for each thirteen-year-old. A registered dietitian can help a teenager better assess individual calorie needs.
|Age||Not Active||Moderately Active||Active|
|Age||Not Active||Moderately Active||Active|
How Much Food Does a 13-Year-Old Eat Every Day?
Each day presents different responsibilities, activities and conditions, which all affect the amount of food a thirteen-year-old will eat each day. Adolescents often find it useful to eat 3 full meals with 2-3 snacks through the day to meet dietary needs. Skipping meals or going too long between eating occasions may result in poor dietary choices during the rest of the day.
A balanced meal should offer a mix of nutrients and food groups. Generally, a teenager can make half the plate fruit and vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter grains. They should also try to maintain good hydration throughout the day be drinking water and other unsweetened beverages.
A nutrient dense snack can bridge the gap between meals and keep a 13-year old feeling energized. Snacks should provide a combination of carbohydrate with protein, healthy fat and/or fiber. Eating an apple will not provide much satiety, but apple slices with peanut butter will keep a teenager full and energized for longer.
Other good snack options include:
- Trail mix
- Cheese and crackers
- Veggies and hummus
- Bean and cheese quesadilla
- Pita chips with guacamole
- Plain yogurt with berries
- Banana and nut butter
The following table demonstrates a basic eating pattern for a 13-year old with examples of each food group.
Food Group Recommendations for 13-Year Olds
|Food group||Recommended amount||Examples|
|Fruits and vegetables (F&V)||5+ cups||1 cup (c) F&V equivalents: 1 c F&V, 1 c 100% F&V juice, ½ cup of dried fruit, 2 c leafy greens|
|DairK||3 cups||1 cup (c) dairy equivalents: 1 c milk, yogurt, or soy milk, or 1 ½ oz of natural cheese|
|Protein||5-7 ounces||1 ounce (oz) protein equivalents: 1 oz meat/poultry/fish, ¼ c cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon nut butter, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds|
|Grains||5-10 ounces||1 ounce (oz) grain equivalents: 1 slice of bread, 1 c ready-to-eat cereal, ½ cup of cooked rice/cooked pasta/cooked cereal|
How Does a 13-Year Old Know If They Are Eating Too Much?
Most individuals can recall a meal where they ate more than what felt comfortable. No one meal will cause weight gain or ruin an otherwise balanced eating pattern. However, eating too much at one meal can lead to some unpleasant side effects.
Short-Term Signs of Eating Too Much Include:
- Gut discomfort
- Feeling sluggish
- Heartburn/acid reflux
- Decreased sleep quality
Most of these unpleasant side effects result from stomach distention and the body’s need to divert energy to digestion. These symptoms usually alleviate within the next several hours.
Chronically Overeating Can Result In:
- Excessive weight gain
- Increased risk of chronic disease
- Consistent stomach distress
- Increased risk of leptin/insulin resistance
Teenagers need not feel ashamed about consistently overeating or participating in binge episodes. Those who experience disordered eating and chronic overeating should reach out to a healthcare professional to seek expert guidance.
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How Does a 13-Year Old Know if They Are Eating Too Little?
Critical growth and development occur during the teenage years. Under-eating and poor nutrition during this time can cause serious and long-term neg
ative health effects. For these reasons, 13-year olds should avoid any purposeful form of restriction or dieting unless under the direction of a health care professional such as a doctor or registered dietitian.
Teenagers can generally still meet nutrition needs when they skip or eat poorly at one meal by eating more throughout the rest of the day.
The following signs can indicate a teenager did not consume enough during an eating occasion:
- Extreme hunger between eating occasions
- Lack of energy
- Increased cravings, especially for higher sugar and fat foods
- Food focused thoughts
- Inability to concentrate
- Decreased sleep quality
When a teenager continues to consume less than their calorie and nutrient needs, they will experience additional negative consequences:
- Poor digestion
- Weakened immune system
- Poor bone health
- Lack of development
- Cognitive decline
- Hyper-focus on food
- Brittle skin, hair and nails
- Unhealthy weight loss
- Decreases overall function
- Increased risk of mortality
Under-nutrition results from many different conditions and factors including medical conditions, excessive energy output, food insecurity and lack of knowledge. Teen years are also a time when many individuals develop disordered eating patterns and thoughts. Parents and teenagers should address any eating disorder concerns with an appropriate expert.
The following website proves a screening, hotline and other resources for those with disordered eating concerns. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
What is the Hunger-Fullness Scale and How Does it Work?
The hunger-fullness scale helps individuals better assess their hunger and fullness cues. This improved understanding of body signals allows individuals to more appropriately respond to and meet nutrition needs. Instead of a strict calorie target, using this scale keeps teenagers in-tune to their ever-changing dietary needs.
This tool is a scale from 1-10, where the numbers represent variations in feelings of hunger and fullness. An individual takes time to identify where they fall on the scale and this assessment allows them to better cue into when and how much to eat. Generally, it is suggested to think about eating at around a 3 or 4 and to stop eating around a 7 or 8.
- 1—Starving, weak, dizzy
- 2—Very hungry, cranky, low energy, lots of stomach growling
- 3—Pretty hungry, stomach is growling a little
- 4—Starting to feel a little hungry
- 5—Satisfied, neither hungry nor full
- 6—A little full, pleasantly full
- 7—A little uncomfortable
- 8—Feeling stuffed
- 9—Very uncomfortable, stomach hurts
- 10—So full you feel sick
Using this scale is more about practicing mindful eating than always starting and finishing an eating occasion at a perfect number. Hunger may reach a 1-2 on a busy day or a teen may choose to eat past an 8 on the scale during a special occasion. These choices are totally fine as the scale just provides a tool for mindful and more intentional eating.
What Foods or Nutrients Should a 13-Year Old Increase?
All food groups and nutrients support health in a thirteen-year-old. However, there are certain food groups and nutrients that teenagers seem to have a harder time including in their diet in adequate amounts. A thirteen-year-old may find it helpful to focus on incorporating the following foods and nutrients in the diet for optimal health.
Fruits and vegetables
Experts recommend making half the plate fruits and vegetables. A lack of fruits and vegetables takes away a significant source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and other health promoting food components. Studies also link fruit and vegetable consumption with reduced risk of chronic disease and improved well-being.
Legumes consist of beans, lentils and soy products. They provide protein and support a healthy gut with fiber and prebiotics. Including more plant-based protein such as legumes supports both individual and earth health.
Incorporating more whole grains in the diet protects a healthy weight and reduces the risk of chronic disease. Whole grains offer more nutrients and fiber than their refined counterparts. These complex carbohydrates provide sustainable energy throughout the day.
Nutrition guidelines suggest eating seafood two times per week. Seafood offers healthy fats, protein, zinc, selenium and other important nutrients.
Unsaturated fats improve heart health and increase feelings of fullness at meals. These types of fat include plant oils, fatty fish, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds.
Dehydration has immediate negative effects on health, energy and cognition. Water should be the preferred beverage throughout the day. Other good sources of fluid include milk, un sweetened plant-based milk and 100% fruit juice.
Calcium supports healthy bones, teeth, nerves and blood. At such a crucial time for bone development, teenagers do not want to skip out on this nutrient. Dairy products are well-known for good calcium content, but other foods offer calcium as well. Beans, some nuts, dark leafy greens, broccoli, fortified plant milks /juice and tofu are all good sources of calcium.
Iron helps transport oxygen through the blood. Adequate iron is essential to a healthy brain and supports good energy levels. Most protein foods offer iron such as meat, seafood, eggs and legumes. Dark leafy greens and enriched grains will also provide iron. Combining plant-based iron containing foods with foods high in vitamin C (many fruits and vegetables) will increase iron absorption.
Most Americans fail to meet fiber recommendations. As a key player in a healthy digestive system and reduction in risk of many chronic diseases, teenagers should ensure they include fiber rich foods. Increasing intake of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains will allow teenagers to enjoy the many health benefits of fiber.
Foods High in Vitamin D
The “sunshine” vitamin derives its nickname from the sun being the main contributor of vitamin D. However, this vitamin can also be found in seafood, eggs, fortified dairy and UV treated mushrooms. Vitamin D promotes health in countless ways from bone and immune health to disease reduction and mental health.
Foods High in Potassium
Foods high in potassium include many fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy products. Potassium is an important electrolyte that keeps the heart healthy and happy. It is also important to nerve and muscle function.
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