bowlMarch is National Nutrition Awareness month so we wanted to take advantage of this and talk about nutrition for teens over the next few weeks. I’ve already started hearing ads on the radio and television commenting on nutrition for the month. With all of the media coverage on health, diets, exercise, and supplements, it can be extremely confusing to know what information is valid for your family or your teen as an individual. While I can’t tell you exactly what to believe, perhaps I can share some information from a medical standpoint that may help with picking the advice that’s right for your teen. Over the month of March, I’ll post ideas on nutrition for you and your teen.Let me start by saying nutrition can be extremely complicated. Registered dieticians devote years to obtaining the education needed to give advice on nutrition, and even after that education, often spend more time specializing in certain types of nutrition (such as nutrition for infants, elite athletes, or people with diabetes). Every teen will have different needs based on what activities they’re doing. That being said, most teens will need to consume more energy (food) than the typical adult.

Teens and children are continuing to grow and develop, they use a tremendous amount of energy just getting up, going to school, and walking the halls each day.  Add to that soccer, basketball, football, cheer leading, or dance and their energy needs just increased. This is the reason why teens seem to always be raiding the refrigerator!  Their bodies actually need more because they’re doing more.

There are, however, trends in decreased energy use. More and more teens (and adults) are spending countless hours each week in front of a screen (TV, iPad, computer, texting, etc)  instead of getting up to move. We rely less on walking, biking, or public transit and more on our cars which get us places quickly but take out extra exercise. There are multiple sugary beverages available that add to our energy consumption, and fewer families have time to sit and eat together for meals, so teens are relying on pre-packaged foods to eat which may be high in sugar, fat, salt, etc.

So what should parents do? Media may promote the next best diet, or a supplement to curb appetite. There are commercials for pre-packaged meals to be sent to your home. Celebrities endorse these things and there may even be clubs to join at your place of work. If it works for adults, it must be healthy for teens right?  Nope! I hope that my explanations above show that teens aren’t just young adults. Fad diets or supplements can be harmful and relying on diet plans doesn’t give a teen a long term solution for a healthy lifestyle.

Here are some general tips for parents. We’ll cover more ideas over this month of March!

  1. Do eat regularly! Having regular meals and snacks helps to prevent over eating. A teen’s body needs regular energy to function well. This includes energy for concentrating on school and energy to play.
  2. Don’t think of foods as good or bad, but instead understand moderation. Balance is important! Having a cookie is not harmful, but denying yourself and then eating an entire box of cookies is. Aim for balanced meals which include food from all different food groups. I think of a meal as 3-4 items on my plate.
  3. Do have snacks. Teens should be putting fuel in their bodies about every 3-4 hours. This means breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack (or dessert). Eating this way helps prevent us from consuming portion sizes that are too large or going back for 2nds! I think of a snack as 1-2 items (such as a glass of milk and a granola bar)
  4. Do avoid sugary beverages and caffeine. When teens drink large sodas or juice, they are consuming ‘empty’ calories. I’d prefer they eat a piece of fruit or even have a pop tart. They’ll feel satiated and will ultimately consume less. Drink water or milk with meals. Caffeine may affect brain development in teens and can have side effects of jitters, restlessness, decreased concentration.