You know the warning signs. At a certain age, teens seem to start growing out of their clothes almost overnight. They are always full of energy but never seem to want to sleep. Food disappears faster than you can bring it in the house.
It can be overwhelming and making sure they are getting all the nutrients they need can be stressful. We’re here to give a basic breakdown of what teenagers and kids need nutritionally to grow on a day-to-day basis. (Note: we are talking about normal teenagers. If your teen has unique needs, talk to a nutritionist or a physician!)
Their bodies are growing fast and they need all that food to keep growing. On average female teens (talking 13-19) need around 1,900 - 2,200 calories a day, and male teens need around 2,400 - 2,800. You probably know that. That said, we need to make sure they’re getting the right calories.
For the three basic nutrients we all need – protein, carbohydrates, and fats – teens need more of all of them than what adults normally need per day. Having the balance of those nutrients is the important part.
In America teens usually eat twice the amount of protein they need, so we don't have to worry about protein too much. Most of that comes from high protein foods like meat, eggs, cheese, and fish. Carbs are the body’s fuel and eating carbs, especially if you are an athlete, are essential. So having that bowl of rice or eating some quinoa are great options to start. Other great ways to get your complex carbs in are oatmeal, beans, vegetables, and peas.
Last we have fats. This is where it can get messy. Teens don’t always find their way to the “good fats.” So let us break down the 3 different fat types, there's monounsaturated fat which is the best of the three. This is found most frequently in nuts, olives, olive oil, peanut butter; pretty much anything to do with nuts or olives. Next on the list: polyunsaturated fat is not bad, but it also is not the best type of fat. This is found in corn oils, sunflower oil, sesame seed oil, and soybean oil. Now saturated fats are the ones we want to stay away from, even for teens. They might not have the short-term negative problems that come from the cholesterol and clogged arteries, but they still are not great in large quantities. So there is too much of a good thing when it comes to egg yolks, beef, lamb, cream, butter, and cheese (sorry!). As a rule of thumb, fats should make up no more than 30% of the daily diet.
Next are the little gremlins that run around with seemingly unlimited energy. Kids can be picky with foods so making sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need can seem like an uphill battle. We all either have kids or know kids that are on the “all colorless foods diet” – pasta, bread, butter.
No need to worry, there is no panic button for kids’ nutrition. That said, here are some thoughts on how to think more about this. In general, your goal should just be to make your kids comfortable trying new stuff. Children between 4-9 should eat around 1,200 -1,600 calories a day.
Protein can be an issue, but there are a lot of other ways to get protein without eating meat. Eggs, milk, nut butters, rice, and beans are great protein options if they don’t want that chicken or steak. A lot of kids are into avocado these days! Carbs are probably easy, so we don’t have to worry about that aspect as much. Like teens, the issue for fats is getting them the right ones - pack their lunch with nuts or nut butters if you can; if not, it’s a great snack when they get home.
We hope this breakdown helps! No need to stress about your kids – they will be alright. But it helps to get them the best nutrition possible.