Does anyone else find it odd that we focus so heavily on diet pre-conception, during baby’s development and certainly during weaning and then childhood BUT when it comes to teenagers it’s a different ball game? Yet, when you think about it these are the years they are growing and developing at such a rapid pace that the demand for nutrients is higher. The facts don’t make comfortable reading. According to the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey from 2008-2011/12:

  1. Teenagers eat only 2.9 portions of fruit and vegetables daily.
  2. Both girls and boys eat less than the recommended daily intake for calcium
  3. They consume very low levels of nuts and seeds
  4. They consume high levels of pasta and pizza
  5. 46% of girls had lower than the RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake) for iron
  6. All teens were at risk of being low in Vitamin D
  7. Teens are typically low in selenium, magnesium and potassium.
  8. They consume too much sugar.
  9. On average teens eat just 14g of oily fish . The recommended amount is 140g. A salmon fillet is about 220g.

In this post I shall provide an overview of the nutritional needs of teenagers and where they are currently falling short. Then I shall outline a 6 step plan to bridging that nutritional gap. First, let’s look at the areas of nutritional health that should be of greatest interest to parents of teenagers.

  1. Due to the rate of growth teens’ bone mass has to be at its peak right now. Therefore they have increased requirements for calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and phosphorous. Yet, many teens will spend a lot of time indoors and away from much needed sunlight. They also tend to get less active which can greatly affect their bone mass.
  2. Girl’s in particular will require more iron after their periods begin. With too many girls eating insufficient iron-rich foods the focus must be on green vegetables, red meat, pulses, fish, seeds/nuts and dried fruit. These are all sources of iron that can become part of a teenage diet with relative ease.
  3. Growth spurts tend to be matched by appetite spurts. These need to be managed and nutrients provided as well as energy demands met. Ensure you have sufficient good quality foods available at home (or dare I say it in the car) when hunger strikes. When they are growing they are growing and in my experience if the only option is junk food, they’ll take it.
  4. Our teens are changing hormonally which can bring with it changes to skin health, weight and also changes in mood. A focus on keeping sugary foods to a minimum is necessary but also a focus on the health of the microbiome is important. Most teenagers I know are not that open to discussing “gut health”. That seems a bit too “gross” for them apparently. However, they may be open to trying kefir or kombucha.
  5. Nutrients that are required by teens in particular:
    • For energy: B Vitamins – these tend to come from a balanced diet with a variety of vegetables, whole grains and protein source.
    • For muscle growth – protein, zinc and iron – these come from both animal and vegetable sources so again just ensure you have real foods (i.e. you know where/how it grew or was reared)  to hand.

Added to this as teens become more independent their decision-making framework changes:

  • They are more likely to be making food buying decisions themselves. They may favour less desirable foods which they can buy easily on the way to and from school/college.
  • Foods on offer in school canteens doesn’t tend to be of the highest nutritional quality
  • Social pressures increase to eat certain foods – to be part of the crowd.
  • There may be more influence from outside the home than in – social media, friendship groups and adverts.
  • Some teens may become focused on weight and make decisions regarding lower calorific intake. This affects girls more than boys typically.

In CONCLUSION there’s a shortfall of nutrients in teenager’s diets at a time in their life when they need those nutrients most. How can we as parents make up for that shortfall?

Step One: Serve oily fish twice per week as part of your family’s evening meals. (Vitamin D, Essential Fats)

Step Two: Buy dried fruit and nut bars such a ‘Nak’d’ or make ‘Bliss Balls’ (similar) as an after meal or after exercise snack. (Iron and Other Minerals)

Step Three: Encourage your children to walk to places and to have some active outdoor hobbies (boost bone mass and expose to sunshine – Vitamin D)

Step Four: Introduce green smoothies combined with some protein powder. The protein powder helps ensure they don’t get a blood sugar rush and subsequent fall. (B Vitamins, Minerals)

Step Five: Enjoy vegetables and fruit in all home meals. That way the choices they make outside of the home have less of an affect on their overall health.

Step Six: Supplement with a good multi-vitamin. You can purchase one multi-vitamin that’s specific to the sex of your child/teen:

(Note: you will need to create an account to buy these but it’s worth it!)

I hope you have found this article useful. Please do share with your friends who have teenage children if so.