The teen years are a time of rapid growth. Teens need extra nutrients to support bone growth, hormonal changes, and organ and tissue development. Eating habits cultivated during this period will set the stage for their adult lives and health in the future.
Out of all age groups, a teenager’s growing body requires the most energy, and that energy comes from calories. Teenage boys should consume 2,200 to 3,200 daily calories per day on average. Teen girls should consume 1,800 to 2,400 daily calories per day on average.
Protein is essential for growth, energy, and tissue repair. As a rule, boys and girls between ages 11 and 14 need half a gram per pound of body weight daily. Thus, a young teenager weighing 110 pounds needs about 50 grams of protein a day. Between ages 15 and 18, the RDA drops slightly.
One of the most important nutrients for teens is calcium, but two-thirds of American adolescent girls don’t meet daily requirements for the mineral. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bones begin to stop taking in calcium deposits by the time children reach early adulthood, which is why it’s critical that teens get enough calcium.
Nutrition also has an amazing impact on mood. A 2013 study found that the risk of depression is 25 to 35 percent lower in those who eat a diet high in vegetables, fruits, grains and fish, while avoiding processed foods and sugar. In another study, teens who ate a low-quality diet had an 80 percent higher risk of depression in comparison to those who ate a higher-quality, whole-foods diet.
Teens with poor eating habits are at risk academically as well as physically. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students who practice unhealthy eating are more likely to receive poor grades, get low test scores and pursue less education. Relatedly, teens who do not get enough food and are often hungry are more likely to miss school or repeat a grade, according to the National Education Association.
There are four major food habits of concern for teens:
More than half of male teens and more than two-thirds of female teens do not eat breakfast on a regular basis.
Increased foods from the ‘other’ food group
About 27% to 33% of energy intake for teens is from the “other” food group. This category includes foods such as fats and oils, soft drinks, snack foods, and desserts.
Increased eating outside the home
Fast foods are generally high in fat and calories. Teens have an increased consumption of pizza, cheeseburgers, and salty snacks, mostly due to eating out.
Increased consumption of soft drinks
This area of diet and nutrition is very difficult to handle for teens but if parents encourage healthy choices, they may limit these as well.
Whether you’re dealing with a picky eater or a child who is always on the go, getting a teen to eat healthily isn’t easy, but here are some tips to help them eat for good health:
Eat dinner together as a family whenever you can.♦
♦ Keep your home stocked with healthy foods.
♦ Keep healthy drink alternatives such as fruit juice, tomato juice, etc., on hand instead of sodas.
♦ Give your teens reusable water bottles and have them fill up at home. Many locations now have bottle refilling stations to help them stay hydrated.
♦ If your teen tends to skip breakfast, encourage them to take a protein bar to eat on the way to school.
♦ Keep the focus on health, not weight, and get your teen involved in helping you prepare meals whenever possible.