Content provided by: Tiffani Ghere, Clinical Pediatric Dietitian


Adolescence is a time of increased nutritional needs. During the rapid growth of puberty, the body needs more calories and key nutrients, including protein, folate and zinc, and, especially, iron and calcium. Each day, adolescent girls need about 2,200 calories and most teen boys require about 2,500-3,000 calories. Additionally, during the middle and high school years, many students participate in after school sports programs and clubs that require increased calories for additional nutrition and energy. Three meals a day, nutritious snacks, and proper hydration is essential. With good modeling and food choices at home from an early age, kids will make wiser choices when out with friends or away from home.

Even though teens are busy people, and their growing social lives might take them away from home more often, continuing to have family meals provides many advantages. It’s your chance to offer a home-cooked meal and connect with your kids on the events of the day — while you make up on the servings of fruits and veggies that might have gone uneaten at school. Though they may not show it, teens still want and need the attention of their parents, and the family dinner table is a great place to make that happen. Talk about the “peaks and pits” of their daily lives, and share yours as well.

In middle and high schools, schedules become more demanding and nutrition is often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the day. Be sure to start the day off right with a healthy breakfast. Teens often sleep until they absolutely MUST get up, and then they’re pressed for time. If they skip breakfast, they may overeat later in the day. To avoid this, plan quick grab-n-go ideas for breakfast to get kids out the door, well-fed and still on time. Little fixes – like adding salsa to eggs – helps ensure that your children get the servings of veggies, fruit, and protein they need for the day. Other easy breakfast ideas include breakfast burritos, yogurt and granola with berries, whole grain toast with peanut butter, and fresh fruit and yogurt smoothies.

For more ideas, visit our recipes section.

Eating well for teens is often difficult for a number of reasons: busy schedules, peer pressure and an increased physiologic demand for nutrient-dense foods. Processed snacks and high-calorie, over-caffieniated "energy drinks" are directly marketed to kids at this age, with the implication that they're more than appropriate: they're "cool." At this age, eating is a social bonding experience, and fast food places, pizza joints, and taco stands provide inexpensive meeting places for kids looking for someplace to hang out. Encourage your children to invite friends over and show them how good a pizza can really be -- if it's homemade, with lowfat, high-flavor ingredients. This provides you with an opportunity to TALK to your kids (and their friends) about food and catch up on their day. Keep the dialog going, reinforce good choices, and offer them these tips to use when eating out: Always be mindful. Try splitting a meal with a friend. Don’t "supersize" the meal. Ask for dressings and sauces on the side so you're in control of the amount you eat. Try salsa, mustard or hummus instead of mayonnaise or oily spreads. Order foods that are grilled or baked, rather than fried. Try a side salad in place of french fries. Order off the appetizer menu, or ask for small plates for better portion control.

Many children in this age group participate in after school sports programs but there is a growing trend to eliminate such programs from schools. Additionally, with the demands of rigorous academic curriculum, and the growing recreational activity of video- and computer-gaming, students sometimes limit the amount of physical activity in their day to devote to more sedentary pursuits. If your child's school has limited sports programs, encourage your child to run, bike, skate, or swim outside of school. For the very active teen, see the athletes section. 



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NOTE: These are general guidelines. Please consult your pediatrician for specific needs.