Make nutritious snacks available for your teen to encourage healthy eating habits.

What Should a Teen Eat?

by Kate Beck

Teenagers seem to have an endless capacity for food. Due to growth and activity level, most teens require a significant number of calories each day. Your teen may not have a problem reaching his caloric needs, but he may not be choosing nutritious options. Knowing what your teen should eat will help you have the right foods available and work with your child in forming healthful eating habits he will use throughout his lifetime.

1. Calories

The average teenager needs between 1,600 and 2,200 calories, depending on age, gender and level of activity. Typically, a girl between the ages of 9 and 13 will need 1,600 calories and a boy in this age range will need 1,800 calories. From age 14 to 18, the average girl will need 1,800 calories and a boy will need 2,200 calories. If your child participates in sports or has other active pastimes, she may require more calories than a teen with a more sedentary nature. Your child's pediatrician can help you determine how many calories she needs each day.

2. Nutrients

Growth continues in the teen years, and your child needs to consume foods rich in all nutrients. During growth periods, your child needs a healthy intake of calcium and iron. Calcium helps promote strong bones, making this an important nutrient for growth during these years. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, fortified juice and a variety of green vegetables. Among the many roles of iron, this nutrient helps build strong muscles. Food sources for iron include meat, fish and fortified foods such as cereal.

3. Meals

Although a teen may have different caloric needs than other family members, your child will still need to eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Encourage your teen to eat breakfast, even if she has a banana, piece of whole grain toast and a glass of milk. Starting the day off with food will improve energy. Send her to school with a healthful lunch, rich in whole foods such as whole grain bread, vegetables with single-serving light ranch dressing for dipping and lean meat. If she eats lunch at school, talk with your teen about how to make the best choice. For dinner, include food from each food group to offer a balanced nutritious meal. If your teen enjoys cooking, let her help you plan a meal and help you cook. This will give her valuable experience when she's in college or on her own, and also help her learn how make healthy choices.

4. Servings

Each day, the average teen needs 3 cups of dairy and around 5 or 6 ounces of lean protein, reports the American Heart Association. Teens also need 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and between 2 and 3 cups of vegetables daily. For grains such as rice and pasta, your teen needs 5 to 7 ounces each day.

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