Good nutrition is critical during teenage years to support healthy growth and development. A healthy diet needs to meet the changing nutritional needs of a growing teen and importantly, helps prepare them for a lifetime of healthy eating behaviours.
Teens have unique needs
These years are a critical period of growth and development, so good nutrition is essential. During adolescence, the need for most nutrients including energy, protein, vitamins and minerals increases. Appetite often increases, so it’s key to have plenty of healthy foods on offer. As teens gain more independence, it can also be tempting to eat more energy dense snack foods and fast foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt and low in other more important nutrients.
Choosing a healthy diet during teen years
The best way to make sure teens are getting all of the nutrients they need, its best to eat mainly from the core food groups:
- Plenty of different vegetables, including legumes
- Whole grains such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat
Body image – a key concern for teens
During adolescence, teenagers grow and develop at different rates and it is sometimes difficult to accept these changes. Some teenagers develop unrealistic expectations about how their body should look and may need some professional help with this.
Being overweight or underweight can be a concern during adolescence. A healthy diet will meet nutrition needs without providing too much or too little energy (kilojoules). Following fad diets, or eliminating whole food groups to lose weight is not recommended and can be dangerous.
Make eating as a family a priority
Evidence has shown that adolescents who frequently eat together with at least one other family member have a healthier diet. Eating with family has also been linked with a reduced risk for overweight and obesity. Also, sharing and making family meals a priority, having a more structured mealtime environment and creating a positive family meal atmosphere are all linked with lower rates of disordered eating in adolescents, particularly young women.
Take a family approach to cooking and healthy eating. Choosing and enjoying a diet that includes a variety of foods from each food group, coupled with regular physical activity will help teenagers to grow, develop and live a healthy life.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can provide nutrition and dietary advice to make sure teenagers are meeting their nutritional needs. They can also work with teenagers to improve body image and self-esteem.