Many social, emotional and physical transitions occur during the teenage years. One of the health changes that teens experience during this time is the growth spurt before and during puberty that often involves increased appetites. It’s important for parents to ensure their teens are eating a variety of foods that support optimal growth and development, but it can be tough to maintain a balance of healthy nutrition between many different school, social, family and sports commitments. Here are some tips for healthy teen nutrition:
Breakfast on the go
Too often teenagers skip breakfast and miss an important time to energize their bodies. Teens that begin the day with a healthy breakfast are more alert, attentive and engaged throughout the day, and they perform better in school and sports. Preparing grab-and-go breakfast the night before can offer an easy solution for teens in a hurry. This is also a great time to prepare school lunches and snacks to avoid feeling rushed in the morning. If your teen is too tired to eat breakfast, this can be a sign of sleep deprivation. Discuss appropriate bedtimes with your teen to ensure they are meeting a goal of nine hours of sleep each night.
Fresh vs. processed or packaged foods
Strive to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables compared to processed or packaged foods that usually have more salt and other fats that extend shelf life. Family trips to local gardens or farmers markets are a great way to support your community, find more affordable fresh produce and increase physical activity. Having your teen join in grocery shopping is also an excellent time to read Nutrition Facts food labels together to discuss which options are best.
Drink water instead of high-calorie drinks
On average, teens need about eight cups of water per day. The more active they are, the more their bodies needs to replenish the water lost through sweat, so aim for 11 cups per day. A creative way to get teens to drink more water is by making homemade flavored water by mixing fresh or frozen fruit into a glass of water. Avoid energy drinks and soft drinks that have more than the recommended daily caffeine and sugar intake for teens.
Planning meals in advance with your teen is a great way to get them involved in healthy lifestyle choices. Resources such as choosemyplate.gov help guide which types of foods to include in meals and provide information on portion sizes. Meals should include whole grains, low-fat protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables, with half of their plate filled with fruits and vegetables.
Healthy lifestyle that extends into adulthood
Healthy eating is one piece of promoting overall healthy growth and development for teens. Other important aspects of a healthy lifestyle include:
- Being active! Increase daily physical activity to at least 60 minutes per day.
- Limiting screen time to less than two hours per day (separate from computer work for school).
- Avoiding tobacco, tobacco products, alcohol and other harmful drugs.
- Advocating for others who have limited access to healthy foods – volunteer your time.
- Online and cell phone apps to track nutrition and activity levels:
- SuperTracker from choosemyplate.gov
- Teen specific recipes: Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics
- A Teenager’s Nutritional Needs – American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition (March 2016); available in English and Spanish
Krystal Kaminski, APRN, CNP, is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children’s Minnesota’s Hugo Clinic.