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Teen Nutrition

Preteens and teens have a surge in appetite around 10 years of age in girls and 12 years in boys.  Their bodies demand more calories now than any other time of life.  Teens unfortunately often assert their independence during this stage by making their own eating decisions.  This can create problems, and their nutritional needs may not be met.  Teens often skip breakfast before school, eat sweet and salty food snacks for lunch and wash it down with a soda, and choose not to eat with the family at dinner.  Once they and their friends are driving, teens are eating out more often and typically at fast food restaurants, which are cheaper.  This may contribute to poor nutrition because of the higher salt and unhealthy fat content of the food served at fast food restaurants.


  • Teens need to eat three meals and two snacks per day to meet their nutritional needs.  Ideally these should follow “my plate” guidelines, with 1/2 plate as fruits and vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 as carbohydrate.
  • Teens should be drinking 1% milk and water.  They should avoid sugary drinks, sport drinks or caffeinated energy drinks.
  • They need 4 and up to 6 (higher requirement for athletes) calcium servings per day.  Ideally, they should have 2-3 glasses of milk/day, with the rest as cheese and yogurt, fish with bones like salmon, dark leafy green vegetables, or tofu which are other good calcium sources.  Alternative milks can be soy, nut, rice or hemp based.  Make sure they are vitamin D fortified.
  • Calcium supplements are no longer recommended as they may foster kidney stones.
  • Teens need 5 fruits and vegetables per day, as does everyone else for long-term health.
  • Teens need three palm sized protein servings per day other than dairy protein.  Athletes need extra protein.  For every hour over past one of exercise, they need an extra palm sized serving of protein.
  • Proteins such as eggs, nuts, fish, poultry and meat should ideally be prepared by sautéing, baking, roasting and grilling.  For teens that are vegetarian, beans, legumes, nut, nut butters, seeds and tofu are good choices.
  • Teens need 6 to 8 (and up to 11 in athletes) carbohydrate servings per day, preferably whole grain, which helps meet their fiber demands.  Examples are whole grain breads, whole grain pasta, brown rice, bulgar and quinoa.


  1. What is a parent to do with the teen who skips breakfast?  Fix breakfast the night before.  Low-fat yogurt is a healthy breakfast or a smoothie made the night before.  Whole wheat English muffins with natural peanut butter, hard boiled eggs, fruit and nuts are other ideas, and good on the go.  Pizza or leftover chicken are also good breakfast choices.  It doesn’t have to be traditional fare.
  2. Try to pack or have your teen pack lunch the night before.  If not, have them choose the sandwich line or salad line.  Be careful with condiments, go easy on the mayo.  Vinaigrette salad dressings are best, but keep it lightly dressed.
  3. Snack foods could make up a quarter of a teens daily calories.  If you do not want your teen eating chips, cookies, soda and sweets, it’s best not to bring them home from the grocery store.  Have healthy snacks on hand.  Keep healthy fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator washed and cut up.  Cheese, whole grain crackers, nuts and seeds, eggs, and yogurt are some healthy choices.
  4. Offer your teen positive encouragement to begin healthy eating and do it along with them.  Do not be critical as that can foster a negative body image.  Offer to exercise with them or facilitate where they can exercise with you.
  5. Teach your teen healthier options for eating out.  Help them plan a meal as a restaurant checking on line menus.  Teach them proper sizes, as in “my plate” guidelines.  Have them choose grilled or baked items and go easy on the sauces.  Opt for more vegetables or a salad rather than extra carbohydrates.  As always, water or milk at the meal.


Dr. Judy Hochstadt