Nutrition for Teens

Nutrition for Teens

Help your teenager develop a healthier relationship with food.  

With the teen years come a tremendous amount of changes. Your teen will grow emotionally, functionally, and intellectually, developing a sense of independence, identity, and self-esteem.

Your teen will also grow physically, increasing their need for calories and nutrients. Helping your teen develop a positive relationship with food will go a long way in guiding him to become the healthy, self-reliant adult you want him to be.

Growing Healthy

Girls go through a growth spurt around the age of 12 and boys around the age of 14. Whether your teen feels too gangly or too fat, it’s important to take the focus off your teen’s body and instead aim your teen’s attention on the joy of eating well and eating healthy.

Eating Healthy

The best way your teen can maintain a healthy weight is to eat a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, no-fat or low-fat milk products, beans, eggs, fish, nuts, and lean meats.

Eating healthfully means getting the right balance of nutrients. As your teen grows, he or she willl require more calories and an increase of key nutrients including protein, calcium, and iron.

How much a teen should eat depends on their individual needs. In general your teen should eat a varied diet, including:

Fruits and vegetables every day. Your teen should eat 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables every day (for a 2,000 calorie diet).

1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily. Your teen should eat three 1-cup servings of low-fat or fat-free calcium-rich foods every day. Good sources include yogurt or milk. One-cup equivalents include 1½ ounces of low-fat cheddar cheese or 2 ounces of fat-free American cheese.

Protein to build muscles and organs. Your teen should eat 5½ ounces of protein-rich foods every day. Good sources include lean meat, poultry, or fish. One-ounce equivalents of other protein sources include ½ cup of beans or tofu, one egg, a tablespoon of peanut butter, and ½ ounce of nuts or seeds.

Whole grains for energy. Teens should get 6 ounces of grains every day. One-ounce equivalents include one slice of whole grain bread, ½ cup of whole grain pasta or brown rice, 1 cup of bulgur, or 1 cup of whole grain breakfast cereal.

Iron-rich foods. Boys double their lean body mass between the ages of 10 and 17, needing iron to support their growth. Girls need iron for growth too, and to replace blood they lose through menstruation. Good sources of iron include lean beef, iron-fortified cereals and breads, dried beans and peas, or spinach.

Limiting fat. Teens should limit their fat intake to 25 to 35 percent of their total calories every day and they should choose unsaturated fats over saturated fats whenever possible. Healthier, unsaturated fats include olive, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oils; fatty, coldwater fish like salmon, trout, tuna, and whitefish; and nuts and seeds.

Drinking Healthy

Your teen should drink mainly water and low-fat or fat-free milk. Think of soda and artificially sweetened fruit juices as desserts or treats and reserve them for special occasions. They may be tasty but they are full of empty calories.

Moving Healthy

Like good nutrition, physical activity can build muscles, bones, and lift your teen’s spirits. It can also reduce your teen’s risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Teens should be active for 60 minutes or more on most or all days of the week. Have your teen replace TV and computer time with physical activities he or she enjoys like swimming, running, or basketball, have your teen walk or bike to school, and include yard work and walking the dog in their repertoire of chores.