We all know that adolescence is when we start developing and our bodies start changing, not just physically but psychologically as well. Thus, it is important for adolescents to consume a nutritious, well-balanced diet to support all the changes happening in their bodies. However, providing them with optimum nutritions to can be a tough task since most teens prefer to eat whatever they like without caring about its nutritional values.
Moreover, teens usually consume a lot more when they are outside the house and their food choices are primarily based on convenience instead of health. For instance, they will prefer to eat a frankie instead of a proper, 3-course meal at lunchtime. Their risk of acquiring chronic health problems also increases due to their unpredictable eating behaviours. Hence, proper nutrition planning and a diet plan are essential for all adolescents.
In this article, we will learn about the various nutritional requirements of teenagers and some of the ways you, as their parents, can meet these needs.
Nutritional Requirements of an Adolescent
Growth spurt and puberty bring out tremendous physical as well as physiological changes in our children. These changes require their bodies to spend more and more energy and nutrients everyday. As a result, you will definitely observe an increase in your child’s appetite. During this appetite surge, your teen will consume a lot more food than they may require, and thus, it is important to educate them about how much nutrition they really need.
Here’s how much your teen needs to eat in order to grow and develop healthily:
- Total Energy – The amount of energy, also known as calories, depends on aspects like their weight, height, age, gender, physical activity level, growth patterns and developmental stage. On an average, an Indian adolescent girl requires 1800-2400 kilocalories a day while an Indian adolescent boy needs 2000-3200 kilocalories a day.
- Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates or carbs are the primary source of energy. To understand in simpler words, carbohydrates are what you get from foods like rice, wheat, corn, potatoes, cookies, soft drinks and sugar. Experts usually recommend that teens between the age of 13 and 18 attain 45-65% of their total calories from carbohydrates. In order to meet these requirements, you will need to add more complex carbs to your teen’s diet while keeping the simple carbs to the minimum. Simple carbs include sweets, sugar (white and brown), syrups, bread (white and brown), rice, etc. Complex carbs include products like brown rice, barley, oats, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, salads, etc.
- Proteins – Proteins are the building blocks of life. They support cellular growth, boost immunity, help in producing hormones and enzymes and contribute heavily in building muscles.
- Dietary Fats – Teenagers need to get 25-35% of their total calories from dietary fats. Out of these, no more than 10% of the total calories should come from saturated fats. Some examples of saturated fats are cheese, butter and palmolive oil. Rest 15-25% of their total calories need to come from unsaturated fats like vegetable oil, fish oil, peanut butter and nuts like peanuts, cashews or sesame seeds.
- Vitamins and Minerals – A well-balanced and healthy diet needs to offer all the required vitamins and minerals to the teen. They need calcium and vitamin D for bone development, iron for healthier blood cells and zinc for sexual maturation.
When planning your teen’s diet, you will need to ensure a balance as excess or deficiency of a nutrient can cause malnourishment, adversely affecting your teen’s overall growth and development.
Ways to Meet Your Teen’s Nutritional Requirements
Here are some of the practical ways you can meet the daily requirements of your teens nutritions:
- Consult a Dietitian/Nutritionist – A dietitian can help you understand and plan your teen’s everyday diet plan after considering his/her age, body and daily activity routine. Most of us see a diet plan as a means to lose weight. However, a well-balanced diet plan, when followed from the start, can help you prevent excessive weight gain, have a healthier lifestyle and maintain a steady development of your teenager. Moreover, a dietitian will also educate them about healthy eating and resolve their dietary habits related queries.
- Calorie Balance & Physical Activity – In most cases, adolescence obesity results from surplus calories, which overtime can cause several chronic issues such as diabetes, heart problems and stress. For this reason, you will need to motivate your teen to be physically active and burn as many calories as they consume. On an average, a 60 minute workout everyday is advisable. Burning calories doesn’t mean heavy workout. It can be as simple as brisk walking for 4-6 kilometres, stretching exercises or practicing yoga. If your teen is involved in sports at school, that’s a cherry on the icing. Exercising not only helps in preventing obesity but also helps in developing muscle, strengthening bones and enhancing flexibility.
- Controlling Portions – A portion is the amount of food/beverage we choose to eat at a time. Ideally, it should be no more than what you need to satisfy your hunger. However, most ready-to-eat packages contain a lot more than what we really need. Educate your teens on controlling the portion sizes they choose when eating, not just unhealthy foods but healthy foods as well. For instance, instead of eating directly from the can of Pringles, serve some chips on a plate alongside a glass of homemade lemon juice and a couple of strawberries. This may look like you are increasing your intake, but in reality, you are only compensating for the unhealthy portion of food with healthier and low-calorie foods.
- 3 Meals & 2 Snacks System – Ensure that there is a sufficient gap between each meal to prevent overeating. Offering as many meals at home will help in monitoring your teen’s diet. In most cases, teens end up having their lunch at school or college. In such a case, make them carry a lunchbox with home cooked meals in it. Packing the meal in a ‘quick-to-eat’ packaging will be even better. For instance, packing a frankie style roll is easier to pack and takes less time to eat than eating a roti and sabji separately. You might also need to train them to be responsible when eating outside.
- Include Fruits and Vegetables in Diet – Teens between the ages of 14 and 18 need to consume at least 2 cups of fruits and 3 cups of vegetables every day. Ensure that you are selecting colourful and seasonal fruits and vegetables when shopping for groceries. If possible, take your teens shopping as it will only help them when they grow up and have to get their own groceries. Many fruits and vegetables have edible peels that are just as nutritious as the insides. Make your teens eat the peel as well.
- Prefer Whole Grains Over Refined Grains – Whole grains offer much better nutritional values like dietary fibre, bioactive compounds and micronutrients than refined grains. Brown rice, quinoa, millets and oats are few of the whole grains that can effectively replace refined foods like white bread, white rice and wheat flour. Switch to finger millet (ragi) or pearl millet (bajra) flour instead of wheat flour when making rotis or other types of flatbreads as millets provide complex carbohydrates against wheat that provides simple carbohydrates.
- Provide a Protein Rich Diet – On average, an Indian teen male needs 52 grams of protein per day while an Indian teen female requires 46 grams of protein per day. Some of the best examples of protein rich foods include:
- Meat – Chicken, Fish and Seafood, Egg Whites
- Dairy Products – Milk, Cottage Cheese (Paneer) and Yogurt
- Nuts – Chickpeas, Walnuts, Almonds and Cashews
- Legumes – Soyabean, Black Beans, Kidney Beans
- Soy Products, Quinoa & Oats
- Chia Seeds
- Vegetables – Leafy Vegetables, Asparagus, Broccoli, Sweet Potato
- Fruits – Jackfruit, Guava, Avocado, Apricot/Peach, Kiwi, Cherry, Raisins, Banana
- Monitor Fat Consumption – Teens eat a lot of junk food and we all know how addictive it is. Foods like pizzas, burgers, cookies, chips or wafers and many other street foods contain oodles of saturated and trans fats. Therefore, it is imperative that you keep their fat intake in check by serving them low-fat foods in their meals. As mentioned in the article before, we will need to keep the intake of saturated fats in check while focussing more on unsaturated fats.
- Addition of Dietary Fibre – Fibre plays a vital role in keeping our bodies clean. Soluble fibre keeps our blood vessels unclogged and cholesterol in check. Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, helps in healthier digestion and bowel system. Some of the best examples of fibre rich foods are millets, raw fruits, all-bran cereals, beans and legumes.
- No Skipping Breakfast – There is a reason why every nutritionist in the world tells the clients to never skip breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day that not only offers energy but also provides necessary nutrients for our bodies to function throughout the day. Skipping breakfast can result in reduction in cognitive and academic performance of your child. Moreover, skipping breakfast can expose your teen to nutrition deficiency over time. It can also result in various health issues such as poor bone mineralisation, iron deficiency, anaemia and growth failure.
- Limit Packed Juices – Packed juices not only lack fibre but are also high in sugar and preservatives. Many of the branded juices contain artificial flavours, additives and colours that make the fruit juices more harmful than healthy. Instead of getting readymade juices packed in a tetrapak, buy the fruits fresh and blend/squeeze them at home and make a juice that’s pure and healthy.
Proper nutrition for adolescents is essential to meet their rapid growth and development requirements. Therefore, serve your adolescent a well-balanced, healthy meal at home. Moreover, providing them with quick-to-eat and easy-to-carry lunch boxes is a way better option than letting them eat unhealthy, junk food when in school/college. You can involve them when buying groceries to educate them better at making well-informed and wise buying decisions in their adulthood. If you teach them to cook healthy from a tender age, that’ll work wonders.