Here are some helpful tips on how to meet the needs of a teen’s growing body.
The teen years are a time of rapid growth. They need extra nutrients to support bone growth, hormonal changes, and organ and tissue development, including the brain. The two main nutrients of concern for teenagers are calcium and iron.
Calcium is important for bone growth. If teens optimize their bone health, they have a decreased risk of fractures and of developing osteoporosis during adulthood. Females are particularly at risk if they do not meet their calcium requirements. Females aged 13 to 17 have a daily recommended intake (DRI) of 1300 mg/day. Males of the same age meet their requirements at about 1400 mg/day. Most teens do not meet these daily requirements.
|Food item||Serving size||Amount of calcium (mg)|
|Almonds||¼ cup (50 ml)||75|
|Bok choy, cooked||½ cup (125 ml)||85|
|Broccoli, cooked||½ cup (125 ml)||50|
|Yogurt, fruit bottom||¾ cup (175 g)||215 to 280|
|Yogurt, plain||¾ cup (175 g)||265 to 320|
|Cheese||50g||355 to 435|
|Milk||1 cup (250 ml)||300 to 320|
|Orange juice fortified with calcium||½ cup (125 ml)||150|
|Rice or soy beverage, fortified||1 cup (250 ml)||300|
|Soybeans, cooked||½ cup (125 ml)||90|
|White beans||½ cup (125 ml)||100|
|Salmon, canned with bones||3oz||180|
|Sardines, canned with bones||4||180|
Iron is another important nutrient for teenagers. Teens need iron as they gain lean body mass. Females also need iron when they start menstruating. On average, male teens meet their iron requirements with little difficulty. However, females aged 13 to 17 barely meet their requirements of 15 mg per day.
|Food item||Serving size||Amount of iron (mg)|
|Soybeans, cooked||½ cup (125 ml)||4.4|
|Tofu, firm||½ cup (125 g)||6.6|
|Baked beans, cooked||½ cup (125 ml)||1.7|
|Chickpeas or kidney beans||½ cup (125 ml)||2.4 to 2.6|
|Lentils||½ cup (125 ml)||3.3|
|Lima/navy/pinto beans||½ cup (125 ml)||2.2|
|Almonds||¼ cup (60 ml)||1.5|
|Cashews||¼ cup (60 ml)||2.1|
|Cereal, fortified||28 g||2.1 to 18|
|Egg, hard-boiled||1 large (50 g)||0.59|
|Chicken breast, broiled||100 g||1.07|
|Beef, top sirloin, broiled||100 g||1.73|
|Apricots, dried||¼ cup (60 ml)||1.5|
|Dried figs or raisins||¼ cup (60 ml)||1.1|
|Bok choy||½ cup (125 ml)||0.9|
|Broccoli or kale||½ cup (125 ml)||0.6 to 0.7|
|Potato, baked with skin||1 medium (173 g)||2.3|
Along with physical changes, teens become more independent as they grow. Dietary options are one of the first decisions teens start making on their own. However, some teens tend to make poor food choices. Overall, teens tend to fail to meet their daily recommended amounts of vegetables and fruits and whole grains. In addition, teens often have increased intake of highly processed foods and foods or drinks that are high in sugar, sodium and saturated fats (see below).
There are four major food habits of concern.
Breakfast is an important meal of the day as it helps to ensure daily nutrient needs are being met. It also improves school performance and helps maintain a healthy weight. The majority of teens do not eat breakfast on a regular basis.
This includes foods such as soft drinks, snack foods, convenience foods and desserts. Everyone should aim to decrease their intake of these foods. However, for some teens, up to one half of their energy intake is from these other foods. This is of concern as highly processed foods are often high in fat, calories and sugar but are low in vitamins and minerals.
Eating outside the home has increased, and a lot of the foods consumed in restaurants are high in fat and calories, especially at fast food restaurants. There has been an increased consumption of pizza, cheese burgers, and salty snacks with teens, mostly due to eating out. Teens should aim to eat more food prepared within the home, especially snacks.
A study looking at American youths aged 6 to 17 found soft drink consumption increased from 37 per cent in 1978 to 56 per cent in 1998. The increase in soft drink consumption could be attributed to the increase in restaurant eating.
Active teens can get all the nutrients they need to play sports by following Canada’s Food Guide. By doing so, they do not need to take supplements. Active teens may need a little more protein than inactive teens; however, this can be accomplished through diet alone. In fact, some protein supplements offer the same amount of protein found in a serving of meat, a half cup of tofu or a cup of milk.
Water is also important for active teens. Physical activity can make a teen dehydrated. Here are some tips on staying hydrated.
One of the most important things you do is to help your children learn healthy eating habits. Children need a balanced diet with food from all 3 food groups—vegetables and fruit, whole grain products, and protein foods.
Children need 3 meals a day and 1 to 3 snacks (morning, afternoon and possibly before bed). Healthy snacks are just as important as the food you serve at meals.
The best foods are whole, fresh and unprocessed—fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and meats; and home-cooked meals.
Sodium is a mineral that maintains proper fluids in your body. It’s also needed for nerve and muscle function. But, eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease. Sodium is commonly referred to as salt.
|Age||Adequate intake (mg/day) |
(1 level teaspoon of table salt is 2,300 mg)
|0 to 6 months||110|
|7 to 12 months||370|
|1 to 3 years||800|
|4 to 8 years||1000|
|9 to 13 years||1200|
*Data from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Healthy fats contain essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 that cannot be made in the body and must come from food. Cook with vegetable oils such as canola, olive and/or soybean. Healthy fats are also found in salad dressings, non-hydrogenated margarines, nut butters (e.g. peanut butter) and mayonnaise.
Many fats that are solid at room temperature contain more trans and saturated fats that can raise your risk of heart disease. Limit butter, hard margarines, lard and shortening. Read labels and avoid trans or saturated fats found in many store-bought products, such as cookies, donuts and crackers.
Limit processed meats, such as wieners and luncheon meats, which are also high in fat, sodium (salt), and nitrates (food preservatives).
Don’t stress too much if your child refuses a food product or meal. Refrain from giving them something else in between meals just so that they eat. They will eat better at the next meal.
Don’t worry too much if your child doesn’t seem to be eating enough. If their weight and size is on track, they are probably getting what they need. Just make sure to offer your child a variety of foods from all food groups to make sure they are getting the right nutrients. Your child’s doctor will monitor their growth at regular appointments and will let you know if there are any problems.
Children’s appetites change from day-to-day, or even from meal to meal. Because they have small stomachs, children need to eat small amounts often throughout the day. Children know how much food they need and will eat the amount that their body needs.