Eating right during adolescence
During the teen years, eating right is more important than ever. Many teens have a growth spurt and an increase in appetite, and they need healthy foods to meet their growth needs. As they become more independent, they make more decisions on their own. And they may be grabbing the wrong types of food, like soft drinks or processed foods.
In addition, a common concern of many teens is dieting. Girls may feel pressure from peers to be thin. Teens may diet to “make weight” for a particular sport or social event.
Healthy eating tips
So what is a parent to do? Discuss these recommendations with your teen to help him or her follow a healthy eating plan—and create habits that last a lifetime:
- Eat three balanced meals a day. Visit choosemyplate.gov for tips on making balanced meals, which include a combination of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. Schedules are busy, but try to make time for a family meal. It’s a chance to connect and to show them healthy eating behaviors.
- Take your teen’s suggestions, when possible, regarding foods to prepare at home. Involve him or her in planning meals and cooking. Experiment with foods outside your own culture.
- Often, teens will eat whatever is easy, so have nutritious snacks ready. Cut-up fruits and veggies with a healthy dip, like hummus, are good options.
- Make sure your teen watches sugar and salt intake. Try to avoid drinks that are high in sugar. Fruit juice can have a lot of calories, so limit how much your teen drinks.
- Instead of red meat, eat more chicken and fish.
- Rather than cleaning their plate, encourage kids to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Leftovers can make great snacks or meals.
Sources: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, USDA, Health.gov, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics
Plan a power breakfast
Too many teens regularly miss breakfast. A healthy breakfast helps kids concentrate and have more energy. A few quick options are a boiled egg and fruit, oatmeal with fruit, yogurt with granola, or a banana with peanut butter or other nut butter.
Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatrics
Grab healthy snacks
Convenience matters when it comes to snacks. Think easy-to-carry fruit and pre-cut veggies, such as apples, blueberries, bananas, carrots, cherry tomatoes and bell peppers. Pair with a cheese stick or pack a dip like hummus or yogurt. Or store nuts in individual snack-size containers.
Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute on Aging, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Cut out the sugar
Beyond desserts, sugar lurks in many breakfast cereals, yogurts and fruit-flavored drinks. Added sugars—those put in during processing, rather than occurring naturally in foods like fruit—can cause weight gain and harm your teen’s health. One smart swap? Add fruit instead of sugar to plain oatmeal and yogurt.
Sources: American Heart Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture, American Academy of Family Physicians, U.S. Food and Drug Administration