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Nutrition for Children and Teenagers

By the time a child reaches the teen years, he or she has a major influence on food choices. Compared to when they were in their childhood years, teens are probably eating away from home more often than just at school. Teens understand the basics of good nutrition, but many stray due to peer pressure, work and school schedules, the need to test independence, lack of discipline, lack of a good example at home, or obsessions with an unrealistic body weight. As with adults or children, the Food Guide Pyramid is also a guideline for teens. Because of an increased need for calories, teens need to increase their number of food group servings to meet their nutritional needs. Teenage boys from ages eleven to fourteen need about 2,500 calories per day, and boys ages fifteen to eighteen need about 2,800 calories. Refer to the table below to find the appropriate number of servings for this caloric range.

Number of Servings for Teenage Boys

Food Group Number of Servings*
Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta 10-11
Vegetables 4-5
Fruit 3-4
Milk, yogurt, and cheese 3
Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts 2-3 (about 6-7 ounces)

*Teens will probably eat servings more closely resembling the size of an adult serving.

On average, teenage girls need 2,200 calories per day from ages eleven to eighteen. See the table below for the number of servings from each group that girls in this category require.

Number of Servings for Teenage Girls

Food Group Number of Servings*
Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta 9
Vegetables 4
Fruit 3
Milk, yogurt, and cheese 3
Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts 2 (about 6 ounces)

*Teens will probably eat servings more closely resembling the size of an adult serving.

Teens' Special Needs
Two nutrients typically come up short in a teen's diet: calcium and iron. This usually happens due to poor eating habits, poor food choices, or not eating enough. Calcium-rich foods are vital to ensure strong healthy bones. Even as teenagers reach their adult height, bones continue to grow stronger and denser. Almost half of your bone mass as an adult is formed during the teen years.

What else can teens do for healthy bones? Besides eating a diet rich in calcium, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and calcium-fortified foods, teens should participate in weight-bearing physical activities. These may include running, tennis, soccer, dancing, volleyball, or inline skating. These types of activities trigger the formation of bone tissue. Also, they should go easy on soft-drinks, especially caffeinated ones, and avoid smoking.

Fatigue can be a sign of iron deficiency. When iron is in short supply, less oxygen is available to produce energy. Iron needs increase during the teen years. Girls need more iron to replace losses from their menstrual blood flow, and both boys and girls need more iron due to more muscle mass and greater blood supply. Iron comes from foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, legumes, enriched grains, and some vegetables.

It is important for teenagers to eat at least three meals per day to ensure they are consuming all needed nutrients. A meal skipped on occasion is not a concern, but skipping meals on a regular basis can mean missing out on essential nutrients.

Being physically active is just as essential to teenagers as it is to adults. One reason teens are not as active these days is too many sedentary activities, such as television; too many hours at the computer; and video games. Helping teens establish a lifelong habit of being physically active can help reduce their risk now for chronic health problems later in life. Keep in mind that you are a role model for your teen!

Essential: Boys and girls ages seven to ten need about 10 mg of iron daily. For girls during adolescence, ages eleven to eighteen years, the need jumps to 15 mg daily. For boys during adolescence, ages eleven to eighteen years, the need jumps to 12 mg per day.



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Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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