If you have teenagers in your house, feeding them a healthy diet is essential. Teenagers still have a lot of growing to do, and they need proper nutrients to get them through their busy and active lives. While it's probably unrealistic to think that teens will choose healthy foods all the time, there are some sensible rules you can put in place to encourage healthy eating in teens.
Healthy Eating for Teens
Teens are at a critical stage in growth and development, and eating a healthy diet will confer physical benefits. It can help to understan the basics of what teens require in their diets.
Teens should eat adequate calories and nutrient-dense foods that supply the vitamins and minerals they need. According to Stanford Children's Health, calcium and iron are especially important because they are necessary for the growth and development occurring at this stage of life. MyPlate.gov also recommends eating a broad range of foods across the spectrum of color to assure nutritional needs are met.
Calorie requirements for teens vary just like they do for adults.
- On, average a teenage girl needs between 1,800 and 2,200 calories a day
- Boys need between 2,200 and 2,700 calories daily.
That sounds like a lot, but teens are growing. Their bodies need a lot of fuel to support healthy growth and to get them through their crazy schedules.
Teen Healthy Diet Guidelines
There's probably not a teen alive who always makes healthy choices. Even vegetarians sometimes eat junk food. Teaching teens how to eat right is not about telling them never to eat fast food with their friends. In fact, prohibiting junk food may lead to greater consumption. Instead, teach teens which foods should be eaten in moderation and which make up a regular part of a healthy diet. By doing so, you can help them understand the components of a healthy diet and provide a foundation to make beneficial food choices. To further this, set the example by eating healthy foods yourself and limiting the junk food available in your house. When there's no junk available, both kids and grownups make healthier choices.
Tips for Healthy Eating for Teens
Consider the following healthy eating tips:
- Always eat breakfast. Make sure to include some kind of protein for continued energy. It would be even better to include some complex carbohydrates and a piece of fruit or fruit juice.
- Encourage healthy eating at lunch by talking with your kids about the healthy choices available at school or in the fast food restaurants around school.
- If your teen takes his or her own lunch, load it up with fruit, veggies, complex carbs and lean protein.
- Make sure there are plenty of healthy snacks in the house for after-school munchies. If your child is home alone after school, make a list of suggested healthy snacks to hang on the fridge.
- Eat supper together as a family as often as possible. This may be difficult when everyone's schedule is crazy, but research has shown that teens who eat with their families tend to have healthier diets when they're older. They also smoke and drink less than other kids, and girls who have regular family meals have less incidence of eating disorders.
- Remember to make supper healthy dinners as well. It may be the only meal you have any control over, so make it count with good lean protein (remember the vegetable sources of protein as well), whole grains, a couple of vegetables and, if you want dessert, something fruit-based.
- Teach your teens how to moderate portion size. MyPyramid.gov offers insight into how a plate should be distributed, as well as information on portions. Eat moderate portions yourself, as well, to set the example.
- Teens tend to gulp down their meals quickly. This may cause them to overeat, because feeling full takes a few minutes. Encourage attentive eating. Chewing slowly helps improve satiation, causes you to eat fewer calories, and improves nutrient absorption. It also increases the opportunity for family socialization if everyone eats slowly and enjoys their meal.
- Offer a varied diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating the same foods repeatedly can lead to nutritional deficiency.
- Make fast foods and dining out a sometimes treat rather than a regular part of family meals.
- Minimize sugar in the diet.
- Minimize processed foods that come in cans, boxes, bags, jars, and packages. These foods tend to be high in preservatives, sugar, and artificial ingredients.
Losing Weight as a Teen
If your child is overweight going into the teenage years and starting to feel self-conscious about it, you can help them lose by modeling healthy behavior and making it impossible to make unhealthy choices when they are at home. Ban non-diet soda (you might want to cut diet soda as well) and fruit juice if your teen drinks a lot of it. Institute a nightly walk as a family or some kind of physical activity that gets everyone in the house feeling better about themselves.
The key is not to nag a child or teen who needs to lose weight, because he or she will just end up rebelling, sneaking junk food or doing other things to sabotage personal health. A supportive family environment and a house full of people who are also making healthy choices should help everyone get to their goal weight.
Teens will soon be going out into the world on their own. By teaching them now how to make healthy food choices, you will be setting them up to become healthy adults in the years to come.