There’s a lot of advice about how we should feed babies and toddlers, but often by the time our children are older, it becomes more about negotiating around their curious eating habits! Still, it’s good to be aware of the keystones of a healthy diet that will meet their nutritional needs as they grow and their physical habits change.
Nutrition for boys over-10 and teenagers
•The guideline daily amounts (GDAs) we see on packaging offer a useful estimate on the recommended levels of key nutrients for a balanced daily diet for an average adult woman. However, the needs of other groups of the population differ.
|Boys||11-14 years||15-18 years|
However, even these are only average values for these groups and do not take into account individual activity levels and timings of growth spurts.
GDA’s only provide values for some of the major nutritional components, however, particularly with teenagers it is often the micronutrients like vitamins and minerals and some of the essential fatty acids that are lacking in their diets. Sugar and salt are not necessarily so important at this age and it is often the type of fat rather than total fat that needs to be controlled. The key here is that you know your child, you know if they are over or underweight and you can help control this but you cannot see their vitamin or mineral status.
For useful information look on the British Nutrition Foundation website.
A teenager’s dietary needs
It’s plain to see that any teenager’s body is going through great physical change in just a few years. Growing bones, a change of physique including muscle development, and other natural shifts mean that good nutritional intake is important.
- Iron - Iron deficiency is common across the British diet and it’s estimated that around 13% of teenage boys suffer from a lack of iron. Red meat and fortified breakfast cereals are good sources, but make sure your son is aware that he needs to have vitamin C at the same time (a glass of fruit juice, for example) to aid iron absorption.
- Calcium - Many teenagers have left behind the milk drinks of their infancy, but their bodies are still growing and bone-strength is reliant on a good calcium intake (along with vitamin D and phosphorus). Not having enough calcium might not show up in any immediate problems now, but can cause brittle bone problems in the years to come. If your son isn’t interested in milk, try to encourage other dairy products like cheese, smoothies or yoghurt drinks. Fish like sardines are also a good source of calcium though not every teenage boy’s first choice.
- Foods for energy - Many of us have memories of teenage brothers who came home from school and ate their way through three bowls of cereal before teatime. Teenagers need lots of ‘fuel’ for active lives and growing bodies. Try to make sure your son gets his ‘five a day’ by keeping a well-stocked fruit bowl on hand at all times and bring him round to the idea of slower-burning sources of energy. Carbs (delicious fresh breads, pasta and potato dishes) will fill him up whereas too many quick-fix snacks will leave him hungry again after half an hour.
How you can help
A teenager’s diet is not easy to control – food is often likely to come second to more exciting things like a social life, so snacks on the go become the norm. Also, a desire to define independence for many teens manifests itself in less time spent having meals with the rest of the family.
There are positive incentives for maintaining a good balanced diet:
- If your son is sporty, he’ll soon realise that eating well can enhance his fitness. Encourage him to understand the ‘science’ of good eating – it sounds more exciting that way!
- Hormones can be at the root of teen troubles like spotty skin and a tendency for hair to get greasy more quickly, but a balanced diet can help at least avoid making these problems worse.
- Remind him that eating at home saves money!
Try to remember to stock a varied, balanced cupboard and fridge of appealing, easy foods that your teenager might grab on their way up to their room or out of the house, and don’t forget to tempt your teen to the family table when you can, by cooking his favourite dishes…
Teenage boys do tend to enjoy their food and not get too hung up about calories so use this to your advantage. They’ll also try new things if they look tempting enough especially if their mates like them.