Second to the first 2 years of life, adolescent years involve the most rapid growth, which means that this time it is most important for nutritionally adequate eating. What we eat during this time will have a big impact on what our health will be like into adulthood.
These days we are finding ourselves struggling with the burden of teenagers who are overfed but undernourished. What does this mean? Basically it means that teens are eating too much, but they aren’t eating the right foods. So teenagers are gaining weight, however when we measure their micronutrient levels we are finding that they are deficient in many necessary nutrients.
What do we do? Teens need more food, but they need more of the right food!
Here are 7 tips to help improve your teenager’s diet:
- Model good nutrition. As we do with infants and toddlers, model healthy habits rather than preach them. Encourage your teens to help with shopping and cooking of nutritional foods so that they learn the connection between good food and good health.
- Say no. Simple as this. Teenagers will often respond “but all my friends are eating it”. Just because this is the case doesn’t mean that they should. These foods tend to be loaded with sugar and hydrogenated fats which are nutrient poor. So increasing nutrition quantity not quality.
- Relevance. For a teen to be interested they want to know that something is relevant to them. Explain why eating particular foods are beneficial for them in terms of what they would respond to. For example tell them that by eating a diet varied in vegetables and fruits, it will help keep their skin healthy. Teens pay a lot of attention to their appearance so they may start to focus on this more.
- Eat more iron. This is especially important for girls; however boys will also require more iron. Boys require this additional iron during rapid muscle growth and girls because they lose iron once they start menstruation.
- Eat more protein. This one pertains more to boys to girls. Again boys require the additional protein because of rapid muscle growth. They can require up to 25% more (approximately ½ gram more per kilogram weight, roughly 15g more in total).
- Eat more zinc and calcium. Daily micronutrient requirements increase for both zinc and calcium compared to their pre-teen years.
- Eat smart fats. Even though the brain has completed most of its growth by teen years, vital connections continue to be made. Focus of foods that contain high levels of fatty acids, such as fatty fish, avocadoes, olives, olive oil and nuts.