What Should 13-Year-Olds Eat Every day?

Uncertainties and countless changes fill the teenage years.  Among these changes, a teen experiences evolving social dynamics and crucial growth and physical development. Adjusting to these new aspects of life often cause young 13-year olds to increase their interest in nutrition. With this heightened focus on dietary habits, a 13-year old may ask, what should 13-year olds eat every day?

In general, a thirteen-year-old should consume at least 5 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 daily. They should limit foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fats while choosing foods with higher nutrient content.

The following article will provide more information regarding a 13-year old’s eating habits and appropriate dietary choices. Continue reading to discover how to best meet the nutrition needs of a 13-year old.

Teenagers can enjoy any food as part of an overall healthy meal pattern. However, certain foods contain less nutrients and higher amounts of sugar, saturated fat and sodium.

These foods are often highly processed. Excess consumption of highly processed foods can displace other more nutrient dense foods and lead to poorer health outcomes. 

The preferred taste and easy access of these types of foods make them some of the more popular foods 13-year olds will eat. While a 13-year old can still include these foods, they should eat these foods in moderation. Instead, they should include more nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meats, whole grains and some dairy.

Teens can swap or add in nutrient dense foods with some of these more common lower nutrient dense foods. These hacks allow teens to still take pleasure in their favorite foods while meeting other nutrient needs.

Popular FoodNutrient Boosting Hack
Pizza-Choose lower saturated fat and sodium protein options such as chicken, tofu, beans, seafood or even try eggs. 
-Add favorite vegetable toppings. 
-If available, choose whole grain thin crust. 
-Add a side of salad and vinaigrette to bump up the nutrition and satiety factor of the meal.
Burger-Choose leaner meats or try a plant-based patty. 
-Instead of American cheese, try mozzarella, provolone or Swiss. 
-Don’t shy away from those vegetables with lettuce, tomato, onion or some creamy avocado. 
-Choose a whole grain bun. 
-Eat along with some roasted vegetables
Chips-Eat chips with some hummus or yogurt-based dip to add nutrition and feel fuller. 
-Instead of packaged chips, try making some at home. Slice a potato or other vegetable thin, add seasoning and then bake or air fry until crispy.
Soda-Swap out soda with some sparkling water or mix soda with 100% fruit juice.
-Try to drink soda only sparingly as the nutrition is low and sugar high. 
Milk shake-Be mindful about portion size.  
-Try fruit or nut add-ins. 
-Swap in a green smoothie (milk, frozen banana, spinach, nut butter and sugar). 
-“Nice-cream” or a blended frozen banana with favorite add-ins, can make a fun alternative.
High sugar cereal-Choose low sugar, whole grain cereal (check label on back for cereal with <6g sugar per serving). 
-Use favorite cereal as parfait topping instead of a large bowl on its own. 
-Mix higher sugar cereal with low sugar cereal. 
-Eat with an avocado or nut butter toast on the side to increase nutrients, fiber and fullness factor.
Chocolates/Candy-Top apples or other fruit slices with nut butter and favorite candy. 
-Use a small sprinkle of favorite candy in plain yogurt or oatmeal instead of sugar. 
-Try to mindfully choose out a portioned treat rather than grazing on candy throughout the day.
Fries-Eat a mindful portion along with a balanced meal. 
-Combine fries with nutrient dense dip such as hummus. 
-Make your own fries in over or air fryer. Try home-made sweet potato or other vegetable fries

What are healthy foods for 13-year olds?

Ideally, 13-year olds should enjoy three balanced meals along with two or three snacks. A balanced meal or snack will contain a mix of carbohydrate, protein and fat. 

An easy guide to follow for meals is the MyPlate diagram with half the plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter of the plate protein and another quarter of the plate grains or starchy vegetables. Snacks should be mindfully prepared and eaten and teens should avoid grazing throughout the day. Snacks that combine carbohydrate with protein or healthy fats will prevent blood sugar crashes and promote fullness and energy between meals.

Healthy Foods 

Fruit and vegetables

Any fruit or vegetable makes a great addition to the diet. These foods contain various vitamins and minerals essential to growth, development, a healthy immune system and most body functions.

They also boast of antioxidants and polyphenols which fight inflammation and chronic disease. Furthermore, plant-based foods offer a great source of fiber to improve digestion, feelings of fullness and reduce risk of certain chronic diseases. 

Both canned (rinsed to decrease sodium) and frozen varieties provide similar nutrition to the fresh varieties. Teens should limit fruits and vegetables prepared in any way that adds high amounts of sugar, sodium or saturated fat,


Legumes are an umbrella term for beans, lentils, peas and peanuts. These foods are nutrient powerhouses and should be enjoyed more often by teens. As the king of fiber, legumes aid with digestion and promote health.

They also pack in a variety of important nutrients, antioxidants and polyphenols. Furthermore, legumes provide a good source of protein which helps teens feel full and assists in many important body functions.

Legumes can replace meat in many dishes for a more plant-based diet. Studies associate plant-based diets with better health measurements.

Nuts and seeds

With many similar nutrition characteristics to legumes, nuts and seeds also boast of healthy fats, vitamin E and Selenium. Healthy fats improve heart health while selenium and vitamin E act as antioxidants to protect the body from chronic inflammation and disease.


Teens are recommended to consume two servings of seafood per week. This recommendation helps teenagers take advantage of the multiple health benefits associated with sea food.

In particular, fatty fish offer the essential fatty acid, omega 3, which teens often lack in their diets. Omega 3 protects the brain and heart and reduces risk of some chronic diseases. Seafood is also a great source of protein. 

Enjoy seafood cooked in a variety of dishes. Raw seafood dishes should be limited due to risk of food poisoning. If a teenager decides to consume raw seafood, they should ensure the source is reputable and the staff highly trained.


A surprisingly nutrient packed food, eggs offer quality protein, healthy fats and healthy brain and eye supporting nutrients.

Whole grains

Whole grains contain all parts of the grain, which means they also offer more nutrients and fiber than their refined grain counterparts. Thirteen-year olds should strive to eat at least half of their grains as whole grains.

Lean meat

Meat and poultry offer quality protein, iron and zinc. However, many cuts can also contain high amounts of saturated fat or sodium. Teenagers should look for leaner cuts to take advantage of all the health benefits.

Dairy products

Milk, cheese and yogurt protect bone health with nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. Yogurt also provides live probiotics, which may improve gut health.  Some dairy products contain higher amounts of sugar and saturated fat and should be limited in favor of those varieties with less sugar and saturated fats.

What to feed hungry 13-year olds?

This teen years mark a period of growth, development and an increase in extracurricular activities. Due to these additional energy demands, 13-year olds may express hunger more often.

Teenagers should meet these hunger needs through balanced meals and snacks. Changes in calorie needs are normal and teens should avoid any restrictive measures.

Hungry 13-year olds will not want to turn to highly processed snacks to meet hunger needs. These snacks often only satisfy hunger for a short time due to a lack of fiber, protein and healthy fats.

Instead, meals and snacks should center on minimally processed foods. Combining carbohydrates with fiber, protein and healthy fats will help meet energy needs and leave a teenager feeling satisfied between eating occasions.

If a 13-year old struggles to eat enough, parents may want to try “power packing” foods. Power packing involves adding calories and nutrition without adding a lot of bulk.

  • Cook noodles, vegetables, beans, etc. in oil
  • Add cheese to foods 
  • Use dry milk in soups
  • Add nut butter to oatmeal, fruit, toast
  • Add nuts and seeds as garnishes
  • Don’t shy away from using sauces, dressings, gravy
  • Use higher fat dairy products

More ideas at https://intermountainhealthcare.org/ckr-ext/Dcmnt?ncid=520681019

Healthy on-the-go snack and meal ideas for 13-year olds


  • Trail mix
  • String cheese and fruit
  • Carrot sticks and hummus
  • Homemade pita chips and guacamole
  • Homemade energy balls (mix together oatmeal, nut butter and chocolate chips)
  • Whole grain crackers and cheese
  • Peanut butter and fruit on toast


  • Avocado and egg on a bagel
  • Baked oatmeal and fruit
  • Overnight oats
  • Toasted whole grain pancake with nut butter
  • Egg and veggie muffins
  • Greek yogurt parfait


  • Bean burrito
  • Bean/chicken and cheese quesadilla
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Tuna fish sandwich
  • Whole grain veggie and turkey wrap
  • Leftovers
  • Salmon and rice
  • Quinoa and bean bowl
  • Greek style salad
  • Chicken and veggie pita

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.

Recent Posts