Nutrition Tips for Teens

Nutritious Snacks, Protein and Calcium - all Important for Teen Nutrition


When my husband was a teenager, he would come home from school and call his mom at work to let her know that he was home.  The conversation went something like this:

“Mom, I’m home and I’m hungry.”

His Mom’s reply, “OK, you can have 5 crackers with peanut butter for a snack.”

My husband would then proceed to empty the egg carton in the fridge, placing the empty carton at the bottom of the trash to hide the evidence, and make a giant pile of scrambled eggs for a snack (5 crackers and peanut butter – yeah right).

Different approaches, but they both had the right idea: have a healthy snack and include some protein.  This is going to help satisfy your teen’s hunger and provide nutrients for growth.  In fact, the teenage years are the fastest period of growth other than infancy.  Nutrient-rich meals and snacks are the key to health at any age, but become especially important during adolescence.  Read on for tips on teen nutrition:

Breakfast:  Eat breakfast everyday – no exceptions! See my prior blog post: Got Kids? Get Breakfast!

Calcium for bones:  Four servings per day is the goal and low-fat options are preferred.    An excellent source of calcium will have 30% calcium per serving, such as 8 oz. of milk.  Flavored milks are also a fine choice; they are made with low-fat milk and are worth the extra calories if that is the only way your teen will drink milk.  Calcium-fortified orange juice is another great option, as well as yogurt drinks and pudding.  Dairy foods also provide the added boost of protein and vitamin D.

Protein for muscles:  Protein-rich foods, such as meat and beans, are a good source of iron, another important nutrient for growing teens.  As mentioned, protein can help keep your teen feeling full, a tough thing to do during growth spurts!  Once or twice a week, choose foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna, salmon and certain brands of eggs.  Omega-3’s have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and may help with pimple breakouts.

Grains for growth and energy: When possible, choose whole grains, such as brown rice and whole wheat bread, for added fiber and nutrients.  Fortified grains and cereals are another excellent source of iron.

Fruits and vegetables for health:  Teens especially need the vitamins, minerals and fiber present in fruits and vegetables.  Keep their favorites within easy reach so they develop the healthy habit of occasionally reaching for produce instead of potato chips.

Fast-food and fried food:  One of the biggest reasons for a teenager to limit greasy foods is that it may help prevent breakouts.  Let’s face it though, fast food is going to be part of their teenage years, but they can learn to make healthier choices.  Avoiding super-size deals is a good start.  Also, a greasy burger is fine once a week, but if they are frequent visitors, encourage them to choose grilled options and salads for their other meals.

Think about drinks:  Have plenty of water, 100% juice and milk on hand (flavored milk and flavored water is great too).  Sparkling or mineral water mixed with juice is a healthy alternative to soda.  Try to stick to a goal of one sugary drink per day (8-12 oz.).  The 10 oz. soda cans are great for portion control, as long as your teen sticks to just one.  Another reason to encourage your teenager to drink water is that it is great for the skin and may help reduce breakouts.

Snacks matter:  Think of snacks as mini-meals and try to include two food groups and some protein in snacks.  Some examples include:

*yogurt and fruit smoothies

*salsa and low-fat tortilla chips

*veggies and dip made with lowfat Greek yogurt

*low-fat popcorn and juice “soda” (with sparkling water)

*apple slices with cheddar cheese

*crackers with lean deli meat

Serving size savvy:  Look at some of the labels of your teen’s favorite snacks, such as chips and cookies.  Make sure they are aware of the serving size and encourage them to stick with it, or close to it.  You have to give my mother-in-law credit for attempting portion control!

Shop smart:  The first step to healthy eating is at your grocery store and farmer’s market.  Stocking your fridge with healthier choices is going to help your teen and your whole family eat better. 

Remember to take it slow and be a role model as you take on these tips.  With these guidelines in mind, you and your teen will be eating healthier in no time.


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