While a teenager may look fully grown, they are not yet, so their nutritional needs differ from those of adults. Because their bodies are still developing, their weight can fluctuate regardless of what they’re eating, especially if they go through a growth spurt or participate in sports.
As a parent, it is important to provide your teen with well-rounded, nutrient-rich meals to support healthy development. They will thank you for the guidance later when they must shop and cook for themselves!
Calories measure the amount of energy in food. The body needs more calories during adolescence than at any other time. There is usually a surge in appetite around age 12 in boys and 10 in girls that foreshadows puberty. During early adolescence, kids consume:
- 2,800 calories per day on average for boys
- 2,200 calories per day on average for girls
Once your child stops growing, calorie intake will naturally lower. If your child is active or big and tall, expect increased calorie intake through late adolescence. Girls will typically eat 25 percent fewer calories per day than boys.
Nutrients serve as the body’s energy source. Essential nutrients fall into two categories: micronutrients and macronutrients. Micronutrients are consumed in small doses. Vitamins and minerals make up the majority of micronutrients.
Macronutrients are the building blocks of a diet and are eaten in large amounts. Protein, carbohydrates and fat are considered macronutrients. Carbohydrates and protein provide four calories per gram, whereas fat contributes more than twice as much – about nine calories per gram.
Protein should be the least of your worries when it comes to your child’s diet. While it is important, our body weight is about 50 percent protein, adolescents in the U.S. typically consume twice as much protein as is needed.
For adolescents aged 14 to 18, 0.39 grams of protein per pound of body weight is suggested. This averages to 46 to 52 grams of protein per day. Some teenagers, especially boys, require more protein than the RDA suggests during rapid growth spurts, intense physical activity or illness.
Healthy sources of protein include:
- White meat
Found in sugars and starches, carbs are converted into the simple sugar glucose, the body’s main source of fuel. While complex and simple carbohydrates are both carbohydrates, they aren’t equal in the energy they provide.
When planning meals, make foods that are heavy in complex carbohydrates. These types of carbs provide sustained energy and should make up 50 to 60 percent of your child’s caloric intake. As a bonus, many starches are high in fiber and provide other assorted nutrients. They are true foods of substance that are low in fat, yet filling.
Some foods that contain complex carbohydrates are:
- Whole grain bread
- Fiber-rich vegetables
The other types of carbs, simple carbohydrates, should be minimized as they only offer a brief burst of energy. They are typically found in sweets that have a higher concentration of fat.
Fat should account for less than 30 percent of your teen’s diet. While it supplies energy and helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, it also has many adverse effects on health.
A diet that is heavy in fat will lead to weight gain, even if your child is active. Cholesterol, a substance known to clog arteries, is contained in fatty foods as well. While the side effects of a high-fat diet typically aren’t seen until later in life, it is good to reduce fat intake early on to promote healthy lifelong habits.
Dietary fat comes in three types: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. Monounsaturated fat is the healthiest type, and saturated fat contains the most cholesterol. Each of these fats are found in different foods:
|Monounsaturated Fat||Saturated Fat||Polyunsaturated Fat|
|• Olives and olive oil||• Beef||• Corn oil||• Safflower oil|
|• Peanuts, peanut oil|
and peanut butter
|• Pork||• Lamb||• Sunflower oil|
|• Cashews||• Walnuts and|
|• Butter and cream||• Soybean oil|
|• Canola oil||• Cheese||• Cottonseed oil|
|• Egg yolk||• Sesame seed oil|
|• Coconut oil||• Palm oil|
Each type of fat should make up an equal portion of your diet. Saturated fat should be closely watched. Read the labels on the food you buy – it may come as a surprise to see how much fat, salt and sugar is in your daily foods.
Vitamins and Minerals
The USDA guidelines suggest a well-rounded diet deliver sufficient amounts of essential minerals and vitamins. Teenagers most often lack calcium, vitamin D, iron and zinc. While it is preferable to obtain these micronutrients through foods like spinach and fortified milk, if there is a specific deficiency, dietary supplements are an adequate substitute.
For a completed list of vitamins and minerals and the foods they’re in, view this chart compiled by the FDA.
Build Healthy Habits at Dees Integrative Health
While healthy habits are best learned during childhood and early adolescence, it’s never too late to adopt them. Dees Integrative Health will help you choose the right foods to kick your health journey into high gear!
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