What Should a Teenager Eat?
Teenagers and their diet habits are often associated with fast-food and junk food, obtained from calorie-dense foods such as pizza, burgers, hot dogs, ice cream, chips, cookies, and the list goes on. These fatty and sugary foods have led to unhealthy overweight and obesity patterns.
However, teaching, encouraging, and feeding your teenager nutritious foods can promote good health and lifelong healthy eating habits. Here are some of the healthiest foods for teens.
1: Whole grains
Unlike refined grains, whole grains are packed full of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber. Eating fiber helps slow the breakdown of starch in sugar, which keeps blood sugar balanced. It also helps move waste through the digestive tract, which can keep your teenager regular.
Whole grains are excellent sources of:
2: Dark, leafy greens
Dark, leafy greens are rich in antioxidants, vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, and minerals like iron and calcium. Eating lots of dark, leafy greens can help prevent cancer and lower the risk for heart disease.
Types of leafy greens include:
- Salad greens
- Bok choy
- Mustard greens
Try including these in wraps, salads, stir-fries, or soups.
Teenagers should eat a variety of fruits every day. Eating lots of vegetables and fruits can help eyesight and lower your teen’s risk for heart disease, stroke, and blood pressure problems. Fruit also contains insoluble fiber that passes through the digestive system without breaking down. This can help keep your teenager’s bowel movements regular.
Your fruit can be fresh, frozen, dried, or canned in water. Buying fresh fruit when it’s in season can help you save on your grocery bill.
4: Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein for your teenager. Protein is an essential nutrient that helps build muscles, bone, hair, skin, and almost every part of the body. Since your teenager is growing, getting enough protein is important. Your teenager should get protein from plant sources whenever possible.
Nuts and seeds are also rich in fiber, which can help with steady blood sugar, healthy weight, and a healthy digestive tract. Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of:
- Unsaturated fats
- B vitamins
- Vitamin E
5: Lean chicken, turkey, or duck
Eating a variety of protein sources is ideal and poultry is another good option. While it’s okay to have some red meat, turkey, chicken, and duck are better choices. Don’t feed your teenager fast foods like fried chicken, though. These meats have lots of saturated and trans fats and are not healthy.
Choose lean poultry instead and avoid bacon, cold cut meats, hot dogs, and other processed meat products.
Eggs contain choline, which the body uses to make a brain chemical called acetylcholine that helps with memory and thinking. Choline is also made into another chemical called phosphatidylcholine in the liver, which helps break down cholesterol.
Feeding your teenager eggs can also enrich their diet with vitamin B7 and vitamin A. Eggs are often criticized because they have lots of cholesterol, but they are good sources of protein and can be part of an affordable meal plan.
7: Low-fat dairy
Dairy products are rich in calcium and many also have added vitamin D. Both of these nutrients are important for healthy bone growth and development.
While young children can have high-fat milk and dairy products, older children and teenagers shouldn’t. This is because dairy products are high in saturated fat and salt.
Give your teenager low-fat, low-sugar milk, yogurt, and other products. Added sugar in dairy products can cause weight gain and increase the risk of other health problems.
8: Fatty Fish
Fat is a critical part of your teenager’s diet. Fat helps you absorb certain vitamins, produce new cells, and stay energized. The key is to eat the right kind of fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These types of fat are found in nuts, seeds, olives, sunflowers, and fish.
Eating fish can also help protect against inflammation and cholesterol problems. Feed your teenager fatty fish like salmon or mackerel twice a week.
Like fruit, feeding your teenager a variety of vegetables is important. These contain key vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that can lower your child’s risk for heart disease and stroke. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables can also protect against some types of cancer.
Every day, include at least one serving from a variety of:
- Orange vegetables
- Yellow vegetables
- Dark green vegetables
- Red vegetables
Legumes are beans and peas like lentils, chickpeas, and black beans that are an affordable source of protein. They are rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Eating legumes as part of a healthy, plant-rich diet can lower your child’s risk for chronic disease.
Legumes are also good sources of:
- Healthy unsaturated fats
Talk to Your Doctor
It’s okay if your teenager eats comfort foods like cookies and cakes sometimes, but it’s best to stick to a mostly healthy, plant-rich diet. If you need help with healthy choices, talk to your doctor.
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