What is the Best Diet Plan for a 13-Year Old?

Good nutrition is one key to a happy, healthy life and it starts at a young age! 13-Year Olds are at an age where getting the right foods is so important. During this time of essential growth and development, 13-year olds should understand what foods and health habits will support a healthy weight and give their body the nutrients it needs!

The best healthy diet plan for a 13-year old includes a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, protein, and healthy fats. 13-year olds should eat balanced meals and snacks regularly throughout the day and not go long periods without eating. Incorporating physical activity, limiting sugary and processed foods and beverages, stress management, and sufficient sleep are also healthy habits that will benefit 13-year olds!

Read on for more information on what 13-year olds should eat, how much they should eat, and tips for maintaining a healthy weight. You will also learn more about the dangers of trying to lose weight and the signs of an unhealthy relationship with food.

How Many Calories Should a 13-Year Old Eat?

Calories from food are what your body uses for energy. Boys and girls usually need different amounts of energy to power their bodies. Energy needs will also be different based on weight and body composition. 

There is not a “perfect” amount of calories that every 13-year old should aim for. Maybe some days are spent playing with friends while other days are spent doing homework at a desk. Energy needs are different every day, so listening to your body is the most important way of determining how many calories it needs. 

To get a general idea of how many calories is appropriate for a 13-year old, a chart from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is included below. The differences levels of physical activity are explained below the chart.

What is a Healthy Weight for a 13-Year Old?

Growth charts use BMI to determine a general healthy weight range for 13-year olds. The Center for Disease Control has created an online calculator to easily figure out BMI and see what weight classification it falls under. 

A normal weight is classified as being between the 5th and 85th percentiles. If BMI is less than the 5th percentile, it is classified as underweight. If BMI is between the 85th and 95th percentiles, it is classified as overweight and above the 95th percentile is obese. However, these are just general classifications and do not always give the best depiction of overall health.

The best way to determine a healthy weight for a 13-year old is to find one that feels the best, and can be maintained while practicing good health habits. Developing healthy habits is much more important than the number on the scale.

How Does a 13-Year Old Maintain a Healthy Weight?

If you have to go to extremes to maintain a certain weight, that weight is likely not healthy for you. If you are listening to and honoring body cues, choosing food options that provide nourishment to your body, and practicing regular physical activity, your body will actually settle into a weight that is appropriate for you.

During your teenage years, your weight will likely fluctuate. This might seem frustrating, but it is normal. Focus on the wonderful things about your body, like how it keeps you alive, how it adapts to difficult circumstances, and how it has helped you do the things you love.

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Should a 13-Year Old Lose Weight?

Our society often praises weight loss in the name of health. However, weight loss is hardly ever recommended for children and teenagers. Restricting calories and specific food groups can lead to nutritional gaps that can be harmful during such an important time of growth and development. 

Rather than trying to lose weight, 13-year olds should be encouraged to incorporate healthy habits to slow the rate of weight gain. This means listening to the body better and not giving it calories in excess of its needs.

What Not to do to Lose Weight

You may hear about different restrictive diets that lead to quick weight loss. Maybe you have friends or family that have tried them. Some that you might be familiar with are juice cleanses, keto or low-carb, intermittent fasting, detox diets, weight watchers, etc. 

However appealing these might seem, these are never appropriate for a 13-year old to do in order to lose weight. In fact, they really aren’t appropriate for people of any age to do in order to lose weight.

If you are tempted to try any of those methods, remember that you don’t always know the harm they can do! Most people that try crazy diets end up gaining more weight in the end, harming their metabolism, creating more cravings, and developing disordered eating patterns.

Try not to compare yourself or your body to others. Unfollow toxic social media accounts that make you feel uncomfortable in your own body! Even if it is hard to love your body sometimes, always respect your body and take care of it in a loving and caring way.

If you notice any of the following in yourself or in your child, talk with a dietitian to get more guidance and help.

  • Cutting out food groups
  • Fearing certain foods will cause weight gain
  • Emotional distress that impacts eating patterns
  • Skipping meals
  • Eating only small amounts of food
  • Avoiding social situations where food is involved
  • Eating extremely slow or moving food around on the plate without actually eating it
  • Thinking about food all the time
  • Binging 
  • Over-exercising or purging to make up for food eaten

What Should a 13-Year Old Eat?

All foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern. However, there are certain foods that are more nutrient dense than others. Soda does not provide the same vitamins, minerals, and fiber as a fruit smoothie does. Focus on including these in your meals and snacks:

  • Fruits and Vegetables Aim for 2-3 servings of both every day! One serving is about a cup. Try to get variety in the foods you are eating. Each fruit and vegetable has a unique nutrient profile that will benefit your body.
  • Dairy 13-year olds should get 3 servings of dairy every day. 1 ½ ounces of cheese or 1 cup of milk or yogurt count as a serving. Dairy foods contain minerals like calcium which is essential for bone development at this age. 
  • Protein Girls will need about 4-6 ounces of protein per day while boys usually need 5-6½ ounces per day. 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry is about the size of your palm. An ounce-equivalent of protein could also be an egg, ¼ cup cooked beans, ½ ounce of nuts or seeds, and 1 tablespoon of nut butter.
  • Grains Depending on total calorie intake, most 13-year olds need about 5-9 ounces (or ounce equivalent) of grains per day. This looks like a slice of bread, half a cup of cooked rice or pasta, one cup of cereal, etc.  Try to make half of your grains whole grains!
  • Healthy Fats Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are generally healthier than saturated fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter. Fast food and processed food tends to have more unhealthy fats, so try to eat those in moderation.

Is There Anything a 13-Year Old Should Not Eat?

It is a good rule of thumb to always focus more on what you can add to your diet rather than what you need to take out. 

Putting rigid rules on what you can and cannot eat often leads to more obsessive thoughts about food. If you are constantly telling yourself to avoid all candy, that might actually make you want candy even more! For example, if someone tells you NOT to think about a purple elephant, what do you think about? A purple elephant, of course. It is the same with food.

Best Eating Habits for a 13-Year Old

Below are several good eating habits for 13-year olds to work on developing. Pick one area that you can start with. The little things can make a big difference over time!

  1. Include foods from every food group. Try to get as much variety as you can. More details are described in the section “What Should a 13-Year Old Eat.”
  1. Eat meals and snacks without distractions. Turn off the TV and put the phone away so that you can really be present while you eat.
  1. Choose foods that you enjoy. If you don’t like broccoli, choose vegetables that you do like instead! 
  1. Pay attention to your five senses as you eat. How does the food taste? How does it smell? What does it look like on your plate? What is the texture like in your mouth? Do you hear it sizzling or hear a crunch as you bit into it?
  1. Eat regularly throughout the day. Don’t go long periods of time without eating. Your body probably needs food every 3-6 hours, or maybe even sooner! Recognize when you feel satisfied and stop eating at that point.
  1. Eat balanced meals and snacks. Aim to get carbohydrates, protein, and fat at every eating occassion. This will help you stay satisfied and energized throughout the day!

Other Important Health Habits for 13-Year Old’s

There is more to health than just eating healthy. Here are just a few ways to improve your overall health in addition to a well-rounded diet.

  1. Be active throughout the day. Aim to get at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day! This will help you maintain a healthy body weight as well as reduce stress, and strengthen muscles and bones. 
  1. Drink plenty of water. This will help you feel more energized and will keep your body functioning the best it can! Choose water more often than other sugary beverages like soda.
  1. Find small ways to lower your stress levels. Maybe that means drawing, dancing, meditating, watching a favorite TV show, or a combination of many. Have a list of ideas for when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.
  1. Get enough sleep! Your body needs sleep to grow and develop properly. It is also a time for your body to relax, reset, and rebuild itself. You likely need between 8-10 hours of sleep every night. 
  1. Be kind to yourself. Your body is something to be loved and respected, not shamed or punished. Even if you are hoping to make changes to your health habits, this should come out of a place of body positivity.

How Can a 13-Year Old Gain Weight?

If you are wanting to gain weight or have been told by a doctor that this is something to work on, reach out to a registered dietitian for help in the process. They can give you more specific guidance that is relevant to you. 

Try to add in more healthy high calorie foods to your diets. This might include:

  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Avocados and guacamole
  • Cheeses
  • Olive oil
  • Seeds (Hemp, flax, chia, etc.)

Sample Meal Plan for a 13-Year Old

Below is a sample meal plan for a 13-year old needing about 2000 calories. This is just meant to give examples of meal and snack ideas and can be adjusted as needed.


2 eggs

1 cup low-fat milk

½ Banana

1 English Muffin w/ butter


Turkey and cheese sandwich with mayo

One small bell pepper, sliced, with ranch dressing

1 small brownie


Apple slices

Handful of nuts


3 ounces salmon

1 cup fried rice with carrots, egg, peas

1 cup broccoli


8 ounces low-fat Greek yogurt

See My Other Meal Plans:


There are many things a 13-year old can do to take care of their body and maintain a healthy weight. Although eating and exercise is extremely important, we must remember that overall health has many other components. 

Take an inventory of the areas that might need a little extra work and start there. You do not have to be perfect to be healthy. Making small, sustainable changes is the key to a happy, healthy life!


US Department of Agriculture. My Plate. Myplate.gov. Based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.

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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