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Proper Nutrition for a Teenager

Teenagers need to eat a balanced, healthy diet to grow into healthy, happy adults. Unfortunately, right when teenagers need the most guidance in choosing a healthy diet, they also have less supervision and a constant barrage of unhealthy food choices, from fast food fries and pizza at the mall to candy in the vending machines at school. You may not be able to control everything that goes into your teenager’s mouth, but you can educate him on proper nutrition and trust him to make his own healthy decisions.

Calorie Needs

During the teenage years, your child will grow a lot. The best way to make sure he grows to his full height and strength is to make sure he gets enough calories every day. Teenagers need more calories than they did as children and more than they will need as adults. Helpguide.org recommends that teenage boys consume between 2,500 and 2,800 calories each day and that teenage girls take in at least 2,200 calories. FamilyEducation has slightly higher calorie suggestions at 2,800 to 3,000 for boys and 2,400 for girls.

Nutrient Needs

Your teenager needs the basic three macro-nutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates, as well as plenty of certain micro-nutrients, particularly calcium and iron. Teenagers need at least 1,200mg of calcium every day to develop strong bones and ward off osteoporosis later in life. According to WebMD, most teenagers do not get the calcium they need since they’ve replaced the milk they drank daily as children with sugary juices and sodas. If your teenager won’t touch milk, try to get her to eat low-fat yogurt or cheese or leafy greens, such as spinach. Teenagers should also strive to take in about 12mg of iron a day for boys and 15mg per day for girls. Meat is a great source of iron, as are beans and green vegetables.

Getting Your Teenager to Eat Right

You can’t hover over your teenager’s shoulder, ready to keep the candy and junk out of her mouth. You can model good eating habits and encourage healthy eating at home, though. Strive to serve a healthy, nutritionally balanced family meal a few times a week. It doesn’t have to be dinner, according to FamilyEducation. Your family may want to sit down to a weekend brunch or Saturday afternoon lunch together. Don’t force your teenager to eat if she isn’t hungry and don’t obsess about your weight or hers.

Cause for Concern

Sometimes, your teenager’s eating habits may raise a few red flags. Both teenage boys and girls can become overly concerned with their weight and may make drastic changes to their diets in an attempt to lose a few pounds. If you notice your teenager skipping meals, refusing to eat or eating a lot more than expected in one sitting, he may have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. Talk to your teenager about any concerns he may have about his weight, and if necessary, seek treatment.

The Vegetarian Teenager

If your teenager suddenly announces one day that she plans to eschew all meat, or perhaps all animal products, including eggs and dairy, don’t panic. It is possible for a teenager to skip meat and still maintain proper nutrition. Research ways for her to get enough iron, calcium and protein into her diet. Vegetarian protein sources include beans and tofu. Beans are also a good source of calcium and iron. If your teenager stops eating all animal products, you also need to make sure she gets enough B12, either through a supplement or a B12-fortified food, such as soy milk. Make sure your vegetarian teenager is actually eating vegetables and not simply relying on processed fake meat products, too.

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