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Decoding the information on food packages is hardly easy for adults. So why do we expect teens to know what’s best for their health? Puberty leads to surges of hormones in teenage bodies that can dramatically affect their appetites. If the closest snack option is a bag of Doritos, many teens don’t have the “nutritional intelligence” to avoid it.

Healthy eating during adolescence is vital for proper growth and development. It leads to the prevention of numerous health conditions. According to health.gov’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, children and young adults need to follow a healthy diet. That is, a diet filled with whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables. Healthy diets include low-fat dairy products, and a variety of oils and protein-rich foods (not necessarily just meat). It’s also recommended that teens limit their caloric intake of solid fats and added sugars and lower in sodium.

Teen Nutrition Information

Teen obesity rates are on the rise today. However, understanding the specific nutritional guidelines that teenagers should follow can help. It should make a difference in helping your teen make good choices.

Calorie Levels

A surge in appetite is typical in children between ages ten and 12 as their bodies enter puberty. In fact, the body demands more calories during this time than at any other in life. On average, boys need about 2,800 calories per day, and girls need 2,200. To compare: an adult woman, in her late 30s to early 40s with a sedentary lifestyle only needs 1,800 calories.

This ravenous hunger starts to diminish after kids stop growing. For girls, this is typically (though not always) about 3 years after their first period. For boys, growth can continue throughout the teen years. It’s all too easy for older teens to keep eating the same amount and consequently gain unwanted weight.

Nutrient Requirements

Teens need lots of protein, carbohydrates, and fats to remain healthy. These “macronutrients” serve as the body’s primary energy source. Protein and carbs both supply four calories of energy per gram and fat packs a hefty nine calories per gram.

Most American teens already get about twice as much protein as they need. However, Carbs, which should make up about 50-60 percent of their diet, are trickier. Simple carbs like junk food can produce a lot of extra body fat, and not give many nutrients. Stick to whole grains, and avoid heavily processed foods and empty carbs.

Fats are good for you if they are good fats. Your teen’s diet should be around 30 percent good fats. There are some vitamins, that are fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K) which means we get them from fat. The healthiest fats are in things like olives, olive and peanut oil, nuts, and avocados. 

Suggestions for Good Diets for Teens

For teens to succeed at eating healthier, they need simple, easy to remember steps. The following tips for developing healthy diets for teens are the right place to start. If you need more suggestions, you can find more teen health articles at healthychildren.org and nutrition.gov.

A good diet isn’t about calorie policing, it is about balance and making nutritious choices.

Narrow the Focus:

There is so much information available about different diets; it’s often hard to know where to turn for good advice. For this reason, one of the best things for teens is keeping things simple.

Cutting out sugary drinks is a perfect first step, as well as turning down processed snack foods. Setting concrete goals that are achievable also helps teens feel empowered and in control of their own lives.

Cut Down Portion Sizes:

Teenage-sized appetites require plenty of food, but many teens are eating more than they should. Model healthy portion sizes on your plate, as an excellent example of what a healthy meal looks like.

Smaller dinner plates make it easy for teens not to feel like they are depriving themselves. Some even find it helpful to draw a line that splits their plate in half to remind teens to load up their plate with at least half fruits and veggies. So can putting up a chart that lists healthy serving sizes for your teens favorite foods,

Assume Most Health Claims are Too Good to be True:

The food industry targets teens hard with their marketing material.  There are many shady claims about the health benefits of a variety of processed foods. In general, foods that sound too healthy to be true probably are.

Teach your teen to look at nutrition labels, and he will soon learn that his “healthy granola bar” more closely resembles a candy bar.

Encourage Making Good Choices Away from Home:

The teenage years come with increased independence. And less time eating mom’s healthy home cooking. It’s an excellent idea to encourage your teen to hang out with active friends who have healthy habits. Teaching your teen what a healthy portion looks like, and how to read labels, will help them. By helping your teen to take ownership of her nutritional health, you can better build habits that will last for life.


Raising a healthy teen requires teaching him the skills he needs to know to make the right nutritional choices throughout life. By making it clear that these lesson matter early, you’ll be setting your child up for a life of healthy habits.

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