What should your teens be eating to their nutritional needs?
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Kids change so much between the ages 10 and 18, as they transition from children to teenagers. Their growing bodies need the right diet now not only to help them develop, but also to establish a life-long healthy attitude to food.
To grow and develop, teens need to eat a healthy, varied diet and make sure that they’re getting adequate iron, vitamin D and calcium.
This doesn’t mean they have to cut out all their favourite foods - and good luck to any mum who tries to make them! It just means that things like fizzy drinks, cakes, crisps and chocolate need to be kept as occasional treats rather than part of the daily nutritional needs of a teenager.
Of course, a teenager’s diet is not easy to control. This is the time in their life when food is often likely to come second to exciting things like a social life, and eating on the go becomes the norm. It’s also a time when your son or daughter will be keen to assert their independence and not do everything – or anything! – you say. However, it’s still possible for parents to gently steer them into healthy eating habits.
The key to healthy eating for teenagers
These basic principles are important for all of us, but particularly vital for teenagers whose bodies have so much growing and developing to do.
We probably all know them by now but it’s worth reminding ourselves:
- Aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates and choose wholegrains where possible.
- Eat or drink some dairy or dairy alternatives such as soy milk
- Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs and other protein. Aim for two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish (like salmon or sardines).
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads.
- Don’t overdo portion sizes.
- Cut down on foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar
- Drink plenty of fluids (about 6-8 glasses a day)
Check out our healthy family recipes.
Make sure your teen has a healthy breakfast
Some teenagers start to skip breakfast either because they’re in a tearing hurry to get out of the door, or because they mistakenly believe that this will help them to lose weight. It won’t – in fact studies show that people who do eat breakfast tend to be slimmer.
Try to encourage them to eat breakfast - even if they do it on the hoof – and check out our healthy breakfast ideas.
Encourage them to eat five a day
Fruit and vegetables are a great source of the vitamins and minerals that your son or daughter needs during their teenage years, and are essential to a healthy diet.
Keep a well-stocked fruit bowl so it’s easy for them to grab a banana instead of a biscuit.
Get your teen to snack wisely on healthy food
Sweets, chocolate bars, cakes, fizzy drinks and crisps are all ‘empty’ calories and eating too much of them can cause teens (or anyone else) to gain weight.
We’ve got lots of ideas for healthy snacks that provide all day energy.
If your teen feels tired
If your teenager often feels tired or run down, it could be that they’re short on iron, which is vital to a teen’s healthy diet. This is a particular issue for teenage girls who lose iron during their period.
Good sources of iron include red meat, fortified breakfast cereals and bread. If your son or daughter is eating plenty of these but still seems tired all the time, it’s worth talking to your GP about iron supplements.
Help teenagers grow with healthy food packed with vitamins
Vitamin D and calcium are particularly important for growing teens.
We get some vitamin D from the sun, but foods that are good sources include oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals.
For calcium, look to milk and other dairy products and leafy green vegetables.
Watch out for eating disorders
As well as thinking about your teen’s nutritional needs and the food they’re putting in their body, you should be aware of the messages their minds are getting about body image.
Be very careful about negative body image comments with your teenager as this is often the time at which eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia can start to take a hold.
Positive encouragement and understanding are a big help; it’s also crucial that you are careful about your own attitude to food.
If your teen is overweight
If your teenager is carrying a few extra kilos, it’s very important that you approach the matter sensitively. Discourage them from following fad diets, which may offer short-term weight loss but might mean they end up quickly putting the weight back on again. These sorts of diets also often lack the necessary vitamins and minerals.
Instead, encourage your teen to cut back on unhealthy foods and exercising more.
If your teen is underweight
If you think your teen might be underweight, check using the NHS healthy weight calculator.
If they are underweight, it’s tempting to try to get them to bulk up with cakes, chocolates and fizzy drinks, but this is more likely to get them to increase their body fat rather than their lean body mass. Instead try adding healthy snacks into their diet, like peanut butter on toast or fruit milkshakes.
Guideline daily amounts for teens
Remember that these are just a guideline (as the name suggests!) and they don’t take individual activity levels into account or the timing of growth spurts.
|Girls||11-14 years||15-18 years|
|Boys||11-14 years||15-18 years|
How do you encourage your teenager to eat well? Let us know in the comments section below.