From the stages of infancy to toddlerhood and even up to the middle grade age group, parents are continually frantic about their children’s food intake and overall health. However, as children grow with more autonomy and awareness of their own bodies, most parents leave them to their own devices as part of letting them grow mentally and emotionally.
Ideally, we do not also neglect the physical during this time period, especially since the teen years are an age of intense change for them.
According to HealthyChildren.org, boys in early adolescence need an average amount of 2800 calories per day, while girls generally need to consume an average of 2200 calories.
This is dependent, of course, on each child’s height, weight, general health, and daily activities. These factors are thrown even more off-balance by the fact that decisions during teen years are often dictated by social norms and acceptance–which at times prove detrimental to the child’s health.
Protein is important to everyone’s diet, but is not an urgent concern in general. Protein is available everywhere: meat, eggs, fish, cheese, etc.
Carbohydrates on the other hand, are a bit trickier. Carbohydrates can be broken down into two categories. Simple carbohydrates are basically simple sugars. According to EverydayHealth.com, common simple carbohydrates can be found in soda, candy, cookies, energy drinks, and ice cream.
Complex carbohydrates are generally preferred because they are more difficult to break down compared to simple carbohydrates. What this means for your teenager is a more sustained energy source throughout the day, as opposed to “sugar highs.” A good source of complex carbohydrates are whole wheat foods, brown rice, barley, etc.
There are three categories of fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. Be wary of saturated fats, as it is the most cholesterol-laden of the three. As a rule, try to limit your family’s intake of saturated fats to 10% of their daily calorie intake.
As for vitamins, the most commonly recorded vitamin deficiency for teens, according to HealthyChildren.org, are calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin D.
Iron is especially important to teenage girls, says APHA member Nicole Larson, as this is the time that their menstrual cycle begins. Lack of iron often leads to fatigue and anemia. Good sources of iron include meat, fish, poultry, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
If you choose to be more specific in caring for your child’s nutritional needs, the MyPlate Plan from the USDA is helpful in calculating your child’s nutritional needs. Here, you enter details like age, sex, weight, height, and general daily activity duration, and the online calculator will tell you how much daily calories your child should consume.
“Good nutrition for teens starts at home.” Larson says. “Parents who want their teens to practice better nutrition should make healthy food readily accessible.”
As for parents who are aware of ailments within the family, it is good to test your child early. For families that have a history of diabetes, for example, control the sugar intake of your child. In these situations, tracking your child’s nutritional diet is not only an option but is imperative.
If your child has diabetes and you want to help as a family, you can read this account of a diabetic and how her family helped her growing up.
Lastly, Larson also advises that parents of teens should try to schedule family meals. Research shows teens who eat with their parents tend to have healthier diets. Family meals are also a good way of family bonding and ensuring that you are aware of what happens in your children’s lives.
As with everything, parenting should come from a place of love. If you are intent on creating a meal plan for your teenager, make sure to be strict but not restrictive. Explain where your decisions are coming from and do this in a way that your children don’t just hear you, but also understand you.