The teen years are a time to grow and change. The foods that teens eat need to support this process. Here are some ways to help your teen eat healthier.
Teens need a lot of calories to support their growth and to fuel their bodies. The amount that your teen needs depends on age, sex, and the calories that he or she burns through activity. Most teen girls need about 2,200 calories each day. Teen boys need 2,500 to 3,000 calories each day.
It is easy to eat too many calories by making poor food choices. This can lead to being overweight or obese. Make sure your teen gets the amount of calories they need by:
Your teen needs:
Many teens, mainly girls, do not get enough vitamins and minerals. Ask the doctor if your teen should take vitamins.
Here are some vitamins and minerals that teens often do not get enough of:
|Vitamin or Mineral||Role||Good Sources|
Helps to build strong bones and teeth
Milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, orange juice with calcium, cereal with calcium, and canned salmon
Helps with growth
Orange juice, breakfast cereals with folate, bread, milk, dried beans, and lentils
Needed to carry red blood cells; not getting enough from the foods you eat can lead to iron-deficiency anemia
Meat, chicken, fish, and breakfast cereal with iron
Helps with growth and sexual maturation
Chicken, meat, shellfish, whole grains, and breakfast cereal with zinc
Needed for eyesight and growth and to help the immune system work
Carrots, breakfast cereal with vitamin A, milk, and cheese
Needed for the body to use the calcium that your teen eats
Milk with vitamin D, salmon, and egg yolks—the sun lets your body make vitamin D, but be aware of the dangers of getting too much sun
Helps protect the body from harm
Nuts, seeds, whole grains, spinach, and breakfast cereal with vitamin E
Helps keep the heart in rhythm, builds strong bones, and keeps blood pressure within a normal range
Whole grains, green veggies, and legumes
Foods with fiber may put off heart disease and some kinds of cancer. It can also ease constipation and help your teen feel full after eating. Most teens do not eat enough. Teach your teen to choose whole grains and offer them plenty of fruits and veggies.
This eating plan is based on the United States Department of Agriculture's Choose My Plate website. The daily amount varies based on age, weight, sex, and activity. Use these amounts as a start. Go to their website to learn more.
|Food Group||Daily Amount||Tips|
Grains (1 ounce = 1 slice bread; ¼ bagel; ½ cup cooked pasta or rice; 5 whole wheat crackers)
Veggies (1 cup = 1 cup raw or cooked veggies; 2 cups raw leafy veggies)
Fruits (1 cup = 1 cup fresh fruit; 1 cup fruit juice; ½ cup dried fruit)
Milk (1 cup = 8 ounces milk or yogurt; 1½ ounces cheese)
Protein (1 ounce = 1 ounce meat, fish, or poultry; ¼ cup cooked, dry beans; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon peanut butter; ½ ounce nuts)
Fats and Sweets
*The daily amounts are for children 12 to 18 who are of average weight and height for their age and do 30 to 60 minutes of activity each day.
There are ways you can help your teen make meals healthier. Here are some tips:
Most teens should also eat 2 to 3 snacks a day. Some healthy choices are fresh fruit and veggies, yogurt, granola bars, cheese, pretzels, and popcorn.
Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Dietitians of Canada
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/. Accessed February 12, 2020.
Parent teaching: Teaching parents about nutrition of healthy teenagers (ages 12 through 18 years). EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Updated September 1, 2017. Accessed February 12, 2020.
Last reviewed November 2019 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
Last Updated: 2/5/2021