“What should my teenage kid eat?” is a question that is not quite as common as “What doesn’t my teenage kid eat?” Teenage nutrition is something that many parents grapple with. The internet and magazines are full of nutritional tips for children and adults but when it comes to teens, not much is available. In fact, many parents assume that kids going through the adolescent stage do not have any nutritional needs (or maybe they are always angry at them to care about proper dieting).
Rapid body and mind development
Adolescence is one of the most crucial stages in an individual’s life for both boys and girls. It is during this time that the body experiences explosive growth physically, mentally and emotionally. Different parts of the body start changing and the brain is in a phase of constant change and growth. To support all these changes, your teen son and/or daughter require certain essential nutrients.
Boys in particular are known for their excessive eating. You, as a parent, will therefore have to come up with a diet that prevents obesity while ensuring that your son is still getting the food quantity necessary. For girls, the situation is a bit different; some may behave normally while others most start struggling with issues of self-image. This may lead to eating disorders which could be very dangerous especially at that young age.
During adolescence, muscles start to develop. For boys, this development is more visible and occurs on a larger scale. Apart from the muscles, other parts of the body are also experiencing rapid growth.
To facilitate this growth, a lot of protein intake is needed. The best sources of proteins include chicken, beef, eggs and dairy products. You can provide them with vegetable proteins such as soy foods, nuts, beans and peas.
If you are wondering why your adolescent son eats so much it is because of the high energy requirement; do not worry, it is not a disorder (or gluttony). Boys require 2500-2800 calories daily while for girls the figure is around 2200 calories. Calories can be obtained from a wide variety of foods including starch, fruits and vegetables. You should however ensure that healthy starchy foods are plenty.
During adolescence, bones tend to become brittle and lack of proper bone-strengthening nutrients may lead to the development of osteoporosis later on. Calcium helps to make the bones dense and strong. Calcium rich foods include okra, Broccoli, almonds, dairy products such as milk and yogurt and leafy greens such as turnips and kale.
The more muscle mass a teenager gains, the higher the requirement of iron in the body. This ensures that the muscle cells get enough oxygen to synthesise energy. Additionally, for girls, iron is important in the production of more red blood cells to replace those lost by menstruation. Lack of enough iron can lead to constant fatigue and anaemia. Sources of iron are many including vegetables such as spinach and kale, whole grains, chicken, beef and legumes.
- The four crucial aspects of teen nutrition are calories, proteins, calcium and iron. Ensure that your teenager has enough of these every day.
- Ensure that the increased calorie intake is balanced with enough activity to dispense of the excess energy.
- Provide a variety of foods to prevent them from getting bored by one meal.
- Ensure that the snacks eaten are healthy.
- Be an example yourself as a parent, it will make it easier for your children to adopt healthy eating habits.
- Explain to your children the reason for the new dieting measures. Even better, start of the diet when they are in their preteen years. This will make it easier to carry on with it during adolescence.
- Watch out for any eating disorders especially in adolescent girls. If there are any, seek the help of a doctor or counsellor.
- For young pregnant girls, the nutrition requirements will be different; consult a doctor for advice.
Finally, do not give up. Even if your kid fights the new diet, insist on it; you will realise later on that the health benefits were well worth it.