Nutrition

Nutrition Advice for Middle Schoolers

Middle school years are a vital stage of development. Children’s bodies are preparing for or beginning puberty and accelerating in growth.

Middle school years are a vital stage of development. Children’s bodies are preparing for or beginning puberty and accelerating in growth. Getting a balanced, nutritious diet is critical for kids to grow, stay healthy, and develop cognitively

Let’s explore the most important nutrition advice for middle schoolers.

How Many Calories Does a Middle Schooler Need?

The average number of calories your child needs per day can vary greatly depending on the individual. However, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends an estimated amount in their Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  • Girls: Depending on their age, level of regular activity, and growth, girls aged 10-14 will need around 1,400 to 2,400 calories per day.
  • Boys: Depending on their age, level of regular activity, and growth, boys aged 10-14 will need around 1,600 to 2,800 calories per day.

What Nutrients Do Middle Schoolers Need?

In addition to getting the right amount of calories, your kids need their calories to have critical nutrients to support growth. Empty calories can lead to obesity, illness, low energy, and chronic health issues.

So what nutrients do your middle schoolers need? Let’s go through the most important categories.

Protein

Protein is an essential building block for the cells in our bodies and key to childhood growth and development. It helps build muscle and bones strength, supports the immune system, and keeps us functioning. 

Ideal proteins for middle schoolers are:

  • Lean meats and poultry
  • Seafood
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds
  • Eggs
  • Beans and other legumes

Vegetables

Vegetables carry essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They help lower the risk of disease, maintain a healthy weight, keep our digestion moving, increase energy, and support overall health.

Aim for a variety of fresh vegetables in your child’s diet, like:

  • Leafy greens
  • Brightly colored vegetables like peppers or squash
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower 
  • Starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes

After fresh vegetables, frozen is the next best option to maintain nutrients. Canned are still suitable for kids, but be sure to look for the low sodium option.

Fruits

Like vegetables, fruits are essential for proper nutrition. Fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and even healthy sugars. Because of the sugar content, kids don’t need quite as many fruits each day as they do vegetables.

While fruit juice can be a great way to get nutrients into your child’s diet, avoid any added sugars. Eating fresh or frozen fruit is the best option.

Some of the best fruits for immune health are:

  • Berries
  • Bananas
  • Mangoes
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Citrus

Grains

Grains help you stay full and provide great nutrients for overall health. Whole grains can provide protein, fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. Like fruits and vegetables, they help with bowel movements and reduce the risk of chronic illness.

Look for foods like:

  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Bown rice. 

Avoid “white” grains like white bread and rice.

Dairy

While dairy is somewhat controversial, a small amount of dairy each day can be helpful for growth, with good calcium, vitamin D, and other benefits. However, many children are lactose intolerant. In that case, using dairy alternatives can be a great way to bring in calcium and healthy fats. 

Look for products like:

  • Fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Yogurt
  • Fortified soy beverages or nut milk

What Foods to Avoid

As we mentioned above, some foods will be detrimental to your child’s overall growth and health. The more processed a product, the more likely it is to have harmful health effects.

Avoid the following foods as much as possible:

  • Processed Sugar: While natural sugars are okay, avoid anything that says “added sugar” – like sugary cereals, drinks, or snacks.
  • Saturated and Trans Fats: Saturated fats come from foods like red meat or full-fat dairy products. Try to keep these to a minimum. Trans fats are present in any product with partially hydrogenated oil.
  • Excess Sodium: Too much sodium can lead to chronic illness. Look for products with low sodium, and always check nutrition labels.

Use these simple tips to help keep your middle schooler healthy and strong!

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