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Raising healthy kids: Nutrition needs for teenagers

teen eats a healthy snack after school while doing homework on his laptop

With the overload of information out there about what to eat, understanding the nutrition needs for teenagers can be tricky for parents. What are the best food choices for growing teens? And how can parents guide their children to make healthier decisions? 

Good nutrition is vital for people of all ages, but the teen years are a critical time for kids to develop good eating habits. Today, about 20% of kids between the ages of 12 and 19 have obesity, which can lead to serious health problems as they age. 

By understanding good nutrition and eating the right foods, teens can maintain a healthy weight and set themselves up for better long-term health.

Keep reading to learn about the nutrition needs for teenagers, the types of foods kids need as they grow and develop, and how to encourage your teen to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

How are nutritional needs different for teenagers?

If it seems like your teenager is hungry all the time, you’re not alone. A child’s body goes through significant changes during the teen years, and most need more calories and vitamins to support their brain and body as they develop. 

Daily nutritional requirements for teenagers

The same healthy foods that are good for adults are good for kids. Still, there are certain nutrients that teens’ bodies need a little more of to help them grow, including the following:

  • Protein
  • Fiber 
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Potassium
  • Iron

Your child’s pediatrician or family doctor can check that they’re getting enough nutrients at their annual health checkup. Even when they’re healthy, kids should see their doctor face-to-face at least once a year to check their overall health, monitor growth and development, and discuss healthy lifestyle choices.

How much should a teenager eat?

Teens must fuel their bodies with nutritious foods throughout the day as they learn at school, play sports, or even just lounge around the house. The unique nutrition needs for teenagers require them to have a meal or snack every three to five hours to keep their energy levels up. 

Remember, while your teen should eat regularly throughout the day, what they eat is even more important than when or how much they eat. Unhealthy foods with added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats don’t have as many of the nutrients your child needs and can even cause them to feel less energetic or “crash” after eating them.

What to feed teenagers

As teens get older and become more independent, they start making their own choices about what to eat. The best thing you can do to encourage your teen to develop a healthy habit of snacking on the right foods is to stock your fridge with healthy options.

While each child is unique, the nutrition needs for teenagers typically include:

  • Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oats, and whole wheat bread
  • Starchy vegetables or legumes like potatoes, beans, and lentils
  • Fruits and veggies like spinach, carrots, apples, and berries
  • Foods high in calcium, like low-fat milk and yogurt, or non-dairy products like soy milk and almond milk
  • Foods like chicken, fish, cheese, and tofu are high in protein
  • Foods that contain healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados
  • Plenty of water

You can’t (and shouldn’t try to) force your teen to eat certain foods that they don’t like. Talk to your child about the foods they enjoy and try to help them choose the best options. 

For example, if the only vegetables your teen likes are green beans and carrots, don’t get mad if they don’t eat that kale you bought. Stock up on the healthy foods they like, and try to include some of their favorites when cooking family meals.

How to eat the right foods to fuel your body

Nutrition needs for teenagers: FAQs

Below are some frequently asked questions about nutrition needs for teenagers and how to help your child eat a healthier diet.

Why is good nutrition important during adolescence?

Adolescent nutritional needs are important because teens need the right nutrients to fuel their bodies as they grow and develop. It’s also a critical time in a child’s life, as teenagers learn to make their own decisions, including which foods they choose. 

How does nutrition affect teens’ growth and development?

There are special dietary needs for adolescence, as it’s the second-fastest growth stage in life (after infancy). As teens grow, they need the right amount of critical nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and D. Teens who play sports may need even more calories and nutrients to give them enough energy for their activities. 

How should I talk to my teen about healthy eating?

While discussing nutrition needs for teenagers is essential for your child’s health, teens are at higher risk for eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, so it’s important not to shame them about their weight or eating habits. Instead of focusing on the “bad” foods your kid chooses, encourage them to eat more of the nutritious foods they enjoy. 

Parents can also be great role models for their teens by living healthier lifestyles. Instead of telling your kids how to eat healthier, show them by choosing less junk food and putting more nutritious options on your own plate. You’ll feel healthier and set an excellent example for your family.

Get quality care for your teen at Logansport Memorial Hospital

If you’re looking for a care team to support your child’s health and wellness throughout every season of life, look no further than Logansport Memorial Hospital. Our dedicated pediatric and primary care doctors provide comprehensive care for infants, children, teens, and young adults. 

Request an appointment 

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TOPICS: Pediatrics