Teenage is a period of rapid growth and development, and thus, it is imperative that teenagers eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to meet their nutritional needs. However, ensuring optimum nutrition for teens can be tricky for parents as most teens prefer eating what they like rather than what’s healthy.
Moreover, teens tend to eat more meals outside the home, and their food choices are convenience-based. And due to their erratic eating patterns, their risk of developing chronic health issues amplifies. So, proper nutritional planning and management of a teen’s diet are necessary.
This post includes handy nutrition tips that would help your teen meet their nutritional needs. But first, let’s understand those needs in brief.
Nutritional Needs Of A Teenager
Teenage growth spurt and puberty bring tremendous physical and physiological changes in a teen. As a result, their body needs extra energy and more nutrients to support these changes. You will also notice an increase in appetite (appetite surge) in your teen (1).
During appetite surge, a teen may eat more food than they require; hence, it is imperative to educate teens about how much nutrients they need.
Here’s how much your teen should eat to grow and develop healthily (2)(3).
- Total energy: The amount of energy a teen needs depends on their height, weight, age, gender, physical activity level, growth pattern, and developmental stage. The average energy requirement of adolescent females and males between 14 and 18 years is 1,800 to 2,400Kcal per day and 2,000 to 3,200Kcal per day respectively.
- Carbohydrates: Carbs are the primary source of energy for the body. Experts recommend that teens between 13 and 18 years attain 45 to 65% of their total calories from carbs. To meet this need, add more complex carbs to your teen’s diet and keep simple carbs at a minimum.
- Proteins: Proteins are the building blocks of life and support cellular growth, muscle development, immunity enhancement, and enzyme and hormone production. The Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2020-2025 recommends teens between 14 and 18 years consume 46g of protein for 1,800Kcal per day.
- Dietary fat: Teens between 14 and 18 years should get 25 to 35% of their total calories from dietary fat. Out of these, less than ten percent of the total calories should come from saturated fats and the remaining from unsaturated fats. Plants and their oils are the primary sources of unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats.
- Vitamins and minerals: A well-balanced, healthy diet should offer all the vitamins and minerals to a teen. Teen, in particular, need calcium, vitamin D, iron, and zinc. These micronutrients support several physiological functions in the body. For instance, calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone growth, whereas zinc is vital for sexual maturation.
To plan a healthy and well-balanced diet for your teen, you need to maintain a balance between nutrients. An excess or deficiency of any nutrient can cause malnourishment, affecting an adolescent’s overall growth and development.
Nutrition Tips For Teens
Here are some practical nutrition tips that you and your teen can use to effectively meet your teen’s nutritional needs (4)(5).
- Talk to a certified nutritionist. A nutritionist can help plan an age-appropriate, well-balanced, healthy diet based on your teen’s activity level. Besides, they can educate your teen about healthy eating and help resolve their dietary habits-related concerns, if any.
- Learn about calorie balance. About 20% of children between 12 and 19 years are obese (5). In most cases, teenage obesity results from surplus calories, which over time can cause chronic health issues such as type-2 diabetes. So, motivate your teen to burn as many calories as they consume. For that, staying active throughout the day and indulging in moderate-vigorous intensity exercise or sports for 60 minutes is advisable. Regular physical activity also helps strengthen muscles and bones and enhance flexibility.
- Follow portion control. A portion is the amount of food or beverage you choose to consume at a time. Ideally, it should be an amount just enough to satiate you, but ready-to-eat or packaged foods often contain larger portions. Educate your teen to follow portion control at all times, even while eating healthy foods. For instance, instead of eating from a pack of banana chips, serve a few pieces of banana chips along with a glass of homemade lemonade to your teen as a healthy snack (6).
- Serve three main meals and two to three snacks each day. Ensure there’s a sufficient gap between the meals to prevent overeating. To ensure better monitoring of your teen’s diet, offer as many meals at home as possible or give your teen home-cooked meals for lunch and snacks for school/college. Since a teenager may often eat outside, train them to make responsible food choices.
- Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in their diet. Teens between 14 and 18 years should eat at least two cups equivalent of fruits and three cups equivalent of vegetables per day (2). Ensure you select various colorful, seasonal fruits and veggies and include them, raw and cooked, in different meals each day. Several fruits and veggies have an edible peel, so encourage your teen to eat the peel to up the total nutritional intake.
- Consume whole grains instead of refined grains. Whole grains offer plenty of dietary fiber, micronutrients, and bioactive compounds that promote overall health. Quinoa, whole wheat, millets, brown rice, and oats are a few whole grains that can effectively replace refined foods, such as white bread and white rice. So, include loads of whole grains in your family diet and guide your teen to choose these while eating outside.
- Give them optimum amounts of protein. Teens should consume five- to seven-ounce-equivalents of protein foods per day. Healthy protein sources to include in the diet are low-fat, unsweetened dairy, seafood, egg whites, lean meat, tofu, beans, and nuts. Low-fat dairy products are also a good source of calcium and vitamins D and B12. So ensure your teen eats ample amounts of dairy. If they are a vegan, you may replace dairy items with plant-based food to get these nutrients. If those foods aren’t sufficient to meet the teen’s requirements, consult your healthcare provider regarding supplements.
- Monitor their fat consumption. Your teen would usually eat several foods, such as burgers, fries, chips, and cookies that contain oodles of fats. Therefore, it is vital to reduce their total fat intake by serving them low-fat foods across meals. Also, educate them to eat healthy fats, such as MUFA and PUFA, by including healthy fat sources such as peanut and peanut oil, olive and olive oil, sesame seed, and sesame seed oil.
- Add dietary fiber. Fiber is a vital nutrient that keeps one satiated for longer. Female and male adolescents between nine and 18 years require 26g and 31g of fiber each day (7). Some of the fiber-rich foods you can add to family meals are all-bran cereals, whole grains, millets, raw (whole) fruits and veggies, beans, and legumes.
- Do not skip breakfast. Breakfast is an important meal that offers energy and necessary nutrients for you to function throughout the day. Research shows that missing breakfast frequently can reduce a teen’s cognitive and academic performance (8). Besides, it may expose a teen to nutrient deficiencies over time. Skipping breakfast can also result in health concerns, such as poor bone mineralization, iron deficiency anemia, and growth failure (9).
- Avoid eating processed foods high in sugar, trans fat, and salt (sodium). Instead, replace them with healthy alternatives, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat protein foods. Some foods high in sugar, trans fat, and salt include cookies, candies, fries, and chips. Packaged and canned foods also contain high amounts of salt.
- Read the nutrition label carefully while buying packaged foods. Guide your teen to read the nutrition label and ingredient list whenever they purchase packaged food. Train them to look for low-fat foods containing less or no added sugar and sodium. They should pick foods made up of healthy ingredients such as whole wheat, nuts, and seeds.
- Stay hydrated. Children nine years and older should drink at least eight glasses of water for optimum hydration (10). The water intake varies based on the activity level and weather conditions. Along with plain water, some of the healthy drinks that teens can consume to stay hydrated are buttermilk, tender coconut water, and vegetable juice.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and soft drinks. These drinks often contain high amounts of added sugar and other additives that are harmful to health. So, replace them with healthier options, such as buttermilk, tender coconut water, vegetable juice, and low-sugar lemonade. Since teens can quickly go overboard with caffeinated beverages, train them to stay vigilant. Excess caffeine over time can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure issues.
- Limit fruit juice intake. Commercial fruit juices lack fiber. Besides, most of them are high in sugar and contain additives, flavor enhancers, and preservatives, making their nutritional quality inferior. Thus, it is best to educate your teen to avoid commercial fruit juices. Instead, they should eat whole fruit, which contains fiber and has no additives and added sugar, and can sparingly have unsweetened, unstrained fruit juices prepared at home.
Proper nutrition for teens is essential to meet their rapid growth and development needs. Thus, serve your teen well-balanced, healthy meals at home. Also, give them quick-to-eat, easy-to-carry homemade meals to eat at school/college. Additionally, you can involve them in grocery shopping and meal preparation from a tender age to teach them ways to make healthy food choices.