Healthy Eating Tips for Teens

Nutrient Needs 

The adolescent years are a time of rapid growth. Teens need extra nutrients to support bone growth, hormonal changes, and organ & tissue development, including the brain. Unfortunately, research shows that many teens do not eat a well balanced diet that provides their bodies with the appropriate vitamins and minerals. The two main nutrients of concern for teens are calcium and iron.



Calcium is important for bone growth. If teens optimize their bone health, they have a decreased risk of teen fractures and of developing osteoporosis during adulthood. Females are particularly at risk if they do not meet their calcium requirements. It has been found that females aged 13-17 have an intake of approximately 1000 mg/day while the daily recommended intake (DRI) for this age group is 1300 mg/day. Males of the same age were found to meet their requirements at approximately 1400 mg/day. To meet the DRI for calcium teens should follow Canada’s Food Guide recommendation of eating a variety of healthy foods each day.


The following chart lists various dairy and non-dairy sources of calcium:

Food Item

Serving Size

Amount of Calcium (mg)


¼ cup (50 ml)


Bok Choy, cooked

½ cup (125 ml)


Broccoli, cooked

½ cup (125 ml)



6 dried


Yogurt, fruit bottom

¾ cup (175 g)


Yogurt, plain

¾ cup (175 g)






1 cup (250 ml)


Orange juice fortified with calcium

½ cup (125 ml)


Rice or Soy beverage, fortified

1 cup (250 ml)


Soybeans, cooked

½ cup (125 ml)


White beans

½ cup (125 ml)


Salmon, canned with bones



Sardines, canned with bones





Iron is another important nutrient for teenagers. Iron is needed during the onset of menstruation for females and during lean body mass development for males. On average, male teens meet their iron requirements with little difficulty. However, females aged 13-17 barely meet their requirements of 15 mg per day. 


Females should try to increase their iron intake with some of the following suggestions:

Food Item

Serving Size

Amount of Iron (mg)

Soybeans, cooked

½ cup (125 ml)


Tofu, firm

½ cup (125 g)


Baked beans, cooked

½ cup (125 ml)


Chickpeas or Kidney beans

½ cup (125 ml)



½ cup (125 ml)


Lima/Navy/Pinto beans

½ cup (125 ml)



¼ cup (60 ml)



¼ cup (60 ml)


Cereal, fortified

28 g


Egg, hard-boiled

1 large (50 g)


Chicken breast, broiled

100 g


Beef, top sirloin, broiled

100 g


Apricots, dried

¼ cup (60 ml)


Dried Figs or Raisins

¼ cup (60 ml)


Bok choy

½ cup (125 ml)


Broccoli or Kale

½ cup (125 ml)


Potato, baked with skin

1 (173 g)



Body Changes 

During adolescence, the body increases in weight and height and also changes in shape. This change is of concern for teenagers as they begin to develop a sense of their own body image. Many female teens think they should be thinner while male teens think they should be more muscular. These negative body images may be a result of social media influenced images, which can also lead to teasing and bullying. Male teens are twice as likely to be satisfied with their bodies as female teens are. In one extensive study, 50% of females aged 14-19 felt they were "too fat" while most of them were within the healthy weight range. Of young women aged 15-19, 44% have already tried dieting and 20% of those aged 14-24 have serious eating problems.

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the two main eating disorders among teenagers. These are unhealthy ways of losing weight and may lead to weight gain over time, as well as other serious problems. These and other kinds of extreme dieting can make one feel:

  • hungry and worried about food
  • unfocused and tired  
  • upset and uninterested
  • cold and dizzy
  • depressed


Food Habits

Along with physical changes, teens become more independent as they grow. Dietary options are one of the first decisions teens start making on their own. However, some teens tend to make poor food choices. Overall, teens fail to consume the recommended variety of foods from the three food groups in Canada’s Food Guide

There are four major food habits of concern:

  1. Skipping breakfast: Breakfast is an important meal as it helps to ensure total daily nutrient needs are being met. It also improves school performance and helps maintain a healthy weight. More than half of male teens and more than two-thirds of female teens do not eat breakfast on a regular basis.
  2. Increased foods from ‘other’ food group:   This food group is the smallest section of the food guide. Therefore people should eat the least amount of servings from this group. This category includes foods such as fats and oils, soft drinks, snack foods and desserts. Approximately 27-33% of energy intake for teens is from the ‘other’ food group. This is of concern as these foods are often high in fat and calories and low in vitamins and minerals.
  3. Increased eating outside the home: Eating outside the home has increased, however the concern is the majority of foods consumed in restaurants are considered to be ‘fast food’. Fast foods are generally high in fat and calories. There has been an increased consumption of pizza, cheese burgers and salty snacks with teens, mostly due to eating out.
  4. Increased soft drink consumption: A study looking at American youths aged 6-17 found an increase in the prevalence of soft drink consumption from 37% in 1978 to 56% in 1998. Mean soft drink intake has also increased from 5 fl. oz to 12 fl. oz over the same time period. The increase in soft drink consumption could be attributed to the increase in restaurant eating. 


Some teens may decide to become vegans or vegetarians, which can be very healthy options that also benefit the planet. Vegans must ensure they are meeting all their nutrient requirements with extra careful planning of their diet. 


Nutrients of Concern for Vegans and Vegetarians

Iron: As mentioned above, iron is important for lean muscle mass and blood formation. To increase iron consumption, try including some of the following foods in your diet:  iron-fortified breakfast cereals, legumes (lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas and baked beans), soybeans and tofu, dried fruit (apricots, raisins and figs), broccoli and bok choy. When eating plant sources of iron, include Vitamin C-rich foods at the same time. This increases the absorption of iron from these foods. Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit, etc.), kiwi fruit, strawberries, sweet peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and tomatoes are all great sources of Vitamin C.

Protein: Protein’s main function is ensuring muscle development and strength. It is found in meat products but can also be found in other food sources such as dairy products, soy or coconut milk, eggs, nuts and peanuts, tofu, beans, seeds, grains and cereals.

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is needed for blood formation and it is commonly found in eggs and dairy. Aside from animal products, vitamin B12 can also be found in fortified soy milk and breakfast cereals. It is difficult to meet one’s requirements with these fortified products alone, therefore a supplement might be needed.

Calcium: Calcium is important for bone health. If one is not eating dairy products, then non-dairy calcium containing foods should be consumed such as tofu, fortified soy or rice beverage, calcium-fortified orange juice, beans, dried figs, broccoli and bok choy. See table above for portion sizes.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is needed for calcium to be absorbed by your bones. Exposure to the sun is a great way to get Vitamin D, though during Canadian winters, this is a big challenge. If one is not consuming milk products, try foods such as fortified soy milk and fortified breakfast cereals. Consuming these fortified products might not offer enough Vitamin D, so a supplement might be needed.


Active Teens

There is a myth that active teens are in need of supplementation to offer them superior performance. However, this is not true. Following Canada’s Food Guide will ensure that one will get all the nutrients needed to play sports. An athletic teen should consume carbohydrates, some protein and healthy fat. Carbohydrates are used as fuel, however, it is not the only nutrient needed for performance. Once carbohydrates run out, fat is needed for long-lasting energy. Active teens may need a little more protein than inactive teens, however, this can be accomplished through diet alone. Some protein supplements offer the same amount of protein found in a cup of milk or a serving of meat.

Increased water intake is also important for active teens. Physical activity can make one dehydrated due to perspiration.

Here are some tips on staying hydrated:

  • Drink 2-4 cups of water 1 to 2 hours before physical activity
  • Drink another 2-4 cups of water 10 to 15 minutes before physical activity
  • Drink about ½ cup of water every 15 minutes during physical activity
  • Drink 1-2 cups of water after physical activity
  • Remember to keep drinking water even if you don’t feel thirsty



Recent studies have shown an increase in the number of overweight and obese youth. Aside from poor food habits, inactivity is a contributing factor. Of those aged 6-17, over 50% are not active enough to maintain proper growth and development. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy foods, and engaging in regular physical activity can decrease teenagers' risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, stroke and some cancers when older.

Older Post Newer Post