Healthy Teen Eating

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Harvard Medical School
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Chrome 2001

Healthy Teen Eating

Weight Management
Nutrition: Ages and Stages
Healthy Teen Eating
Healthy Teen Eating
To keep up with your busy schedule it is important to learn healthy eating habits, which means eating a variety of healthy foods.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

The Secret to Feeling and Looking Your Best

It should not surprise you that there are huge physical, emotional, social and intellectual changes happening during your teen (adolescent) years. These changes all impact how you feel about what you eat and your nutritional needs. For example, you already may have noticed how quickly you have been growing at certain times (so-called growth spurts), with an increased appetite and your clothes no longer fitting after wearing them only a few months.

Like most teen-agers, you probably are quite active, with a demanding schedule including homework, sports, and other extracurricular activities. You care about your appearance and always want to look your best. To keep up with your busy schedule and get enough energy and nutrients for optimal growth and development, it is important to learn healthy eating habits, which means eating a variety of healthy foods.

All teens should want to eat healthfully. You'll feel your best and avoid problems related to poor nutrition, such as iron-poor blood (anemia), slow growth, cavities and becoming overweight. Eating wisely helps you to stay healthy as you become an adult in order to decrease your chances of later developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and some forms of cancer.

How many calories do you need?

During your teen years, the number of calories you need varies with your particular body size, activity level, and rate of growth. For example, during growth spurts you will need more calories and will probably notice an increase in your appetite. On average, males 11 to 21 years old need between 2,500 and 3,000 calories a day, while females of the same ages need about 2,000 calories a day. You may need an additional 600 to 1,000 calories each day if you are involved in vigorous physical activity. However, it is not necessary to count calories. The important thing is to eat nutritious foods — even if you choose a vegetarian diet — from each of the food groups every day.

You will get enough calories and all the necessary nutrients if your daily diet includes:

  • Grains (bread, cereal, rice, pasta) — six to 11 servings
  • Vegetables — three to five servings
  • Fruits — two or three servings
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) — two or three servings
  • Meats (meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, eggs) — two or three servings.

Don't forget to snack

Because you are still growing and also have a very high level of activity, you may need to eat something every few hours. In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, many teens feel their best when they eat snacks in mid-morning and after school. Here are some healthful snacks to choose:

  • Fresh fruits, dried fruits, fruit-filled cookies
  • Vegetables with low-fat dip
  • Cheese cubes, cheese sticks, yogurt, milk
  • Whole-grain bread, bagels, whole-grain crackers, unsalted whole-wheat pretzels, rice cakes, dry cereals (low or no sugar) with or without milk
  • Peanut butter, hummus, bean dip

Keep it heart-healthy

Teens, just like adults, should follow a heart-healthy diet:

  • Drink low-fat or nonfat milk.
  • Eat reduced-fat cheeses and yogurts.
  • Limit the amount of fried foods that you eat.
  • Choose foods that are cooked in healthy oils or those that are baked, steamed, boiled, grilled or broiled.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables for snacks rather than cookies, chips, ice cream, or other high-fat foods.

Choose calcium-rich foods and drinks

Calcium is a mineral that is needed to build strong bones and healthy teeth. It is especially important that you get enough calcium during the teen years because your bones are growing rapidly. Without enough calcium, your bones may end up being thin and weak later in life (osteoporosis), which means a higher risk of bone fractures.

For most people, dairy products are the major sources of calcium and vitamin D (another important nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium), with two or three servings recommended each day. However, calcium intake during the teen years is often low because many teen-agers drink soda, sports drinks, and juice instead of milk. In addition, teen females, who may need even more calcium than teen males, often avoid dairy products because they are counting calories and think that all dairy products are high-fat foods. In fact, calcium can be found in many healthy, lower-fat foods.

Make sure you get enough calcium every day. For teens, the recommended daily total is 1,300 milligrams. The best sources of calcium are calcium-rich foods such as dairy products. There are reduced-fat and even no-fat forms that have as much (and sometimes more) calcium as the higher-fat forms. Calcium also is found naturally in many non-dairy foods, or added to other foods, such as some brands of juice, cereal and bread. Foods that are good sources of calcium include yogurt, milk, fortified soymilk, fortified orange juice, cheese, tofu, sardines, collard greens and spinach.


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Last updated September 30, 2013

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