According to the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, teenage boys need approximately 2,800 calories each day; girls need around 2,200. The trick, of course, is to make sure those calories consist of healthy foods, balanced in a way that will provide them with all the required nutrients. The best way to accomplish that goal is to review the Pyramid with your teenagers and to ask them to participate in coming up with ideas, and also to ask for their help in preparing some meals and snacks, so that they have some ownership in the plan.
Balanced Diet for Teenagers
Make sure your teenager is getting enough protein, and that it’s the right kind. Both boys and girls need about six ounces of protein, equal to two servings, every day. However, that protein can come in many healthy forms. Hamburgers made from lean ground beef is one sure-to-please choice, a hard boiled egg counts as one serving, as does one ounce of peanuts or other nuts, preferably dry roasted.
Recognize that nearly half of a teenager’s total food servings should come from grains. Teenage boys need 10 to 11 servings of grains and girls need nine; a slice of bread, for example, or a cup of cereal usually equals one serving. Choosing whole grains increases the nutritional value. Stock a variety of whole grains in various forms so that they are easily accessible. For example, whole-grain pastas are available in almost every configuration from spaghetti to macaroni, and most kids don’t really notice the difference. Whole-wheat crackers, breads, and cereals are available in many varieties.
Provide easy access to the approximately eight servings of fruits and vegetables teenagers need each day. If apples and bananas are readily available on the kitchen counter, for example, they might get eaten without prompting. If a hungry teenager who is waiting for dinner finds some fresh broccoli and a bowl of low-fat dip, he just might try it out.
Encourage teenagers to keep drinking milk if they haven’t given up the habit. Make sure what’s in the refrigerator is the low-fat variety of milk and all other dairy items. Teenagers need three servings of dairy products a day; that might include an ounce of cheese or an individual carton of yogurt as well as milk. Consider combining a dairy product with a fruit or vegetable, such as veggies and dip or some frozen yogurt topped with strawberries.
Remind your teenagers to cut down on sugar and fat by appealing to their interest in their appearance and health. Discuss the idea of empty calories as well; for example, you might point out that a can of soda and a large order of fries is probably about 700 calories, 30 grams of fat, and virtually no nutrition whatsoever.