Healthy Eating Habits for Teens

Eating well is crucial for growing teenagers because their nutrient needs are higher during this time 1. Most teenagers do not meet the recommendations for whole grains and fruit and vegetable intake. Healthy eating can be difficult for teens because they are often spending time eating with friends, eating fast food and snacking on energy-dense foods and beverages. This eating pattern can lead to an excessive intake of calories, mostly from unhealthy fat and sugar, which increases the risk for obesity.

Drink Smart

Researchers at Cornell University found that soda and juice consumption among adolescents has tripled since 1978. These sugary beverages contribute to excessive weight gain and obesity. Encourage teens to cut back and avoid all sugary drinks. Even 100 percent fruit juice contains a pure source of sugar and no fiber. Water is the best and healthiest option. Add a slice of lemon, lime or orange to it for a burst of flavor. Seltzer is another healthy option, or diet sodas can be consumed in moderation.

Don't Skip Meals or Snacks

Skipping meals can lead to overeating and making poor food choices at the next meal. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, consuming a healthy breakfast is associated with improved memory and cognitive function, a better mood and decreased absenteeism from school 2. Choose snacks with a source of calcium, such as yogurt or milk. As a teen, your body requires and absorbs more calcium, which is essential for increased skeletal growth.

Portion Your Plate

Portion size is important to maintain or achieve a healthy weight. Fill half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, carrots and green beans. Divide your remaining plate into two sections. Fill one section with approximately 1 cup of a whole-grain or carbohydrate-containing food, such as brown rice, farro or beans. Fill the remaining portion with a source of lean protein, such as lean meat, white-meat chicken or fish. It is important to include iron-rich foods, such as beef, chicken, fish and shellfish, because:

  • iron carries oxygen to muscles
  • helps the brain function
  • helps the immune system fight off disease

Also, menstruation increases iron requirements for girls.

Limit Distractions & Triggers

Many teenagers spend five or more hours per day in front of the television. Watching television, especially junk-food advertisements, may alter teen diets or increase what a teen eats. In turn, that can promote obesity. It is also a sedentary activity that replaces time that could be spent on physical activity. So limit television time to one hour per day or to weekends only. Avoid keeping junk food around the house, and instead keep a fruit bowl or raw nuts at home for a convenient and healthy snack. Always portion your food and never eat out of a bag because this can lead to mindless eating and an excessive caloric intake. Change the places where you meet with friends; try something active instead of going out to eat.