We’ve all seen the healthy food pyramid. We’ve all seen the obesity statistics. We all know what we should be eating and what foods we should limit.
Putting all this information into practice when we lead increasingly busy lives is easier said than done.
There are many reasons we don’t eat healthy diets even though we know we should.
‘Sometimes I’m just too tired.’
But what about our growing teens? Do they need more food or less food? Should we monitor the food intake of our overweight teens? Do our athletic teens need more? What about our vegetarian and vegan teens – how do we make sure they are getting enough nutrients for their growing bodies?
‘I have three kids doing three different sports plus piano lessons, dancing and horse riding.’
As if worrying about the ‘right’ curriculum isn’t enough! And, of course, The Big S that everyone always asks about! It’s just another one to add to the list of things homeschooling parents are judged on.
So, let’s make this easy…
1. The ‘Average’ Teen
Of course, no one likes to think of themselves as ‘average’.
Teens who are in the correct weight range for their height and participate in sport or exercise are on the right path for a healthy life – as long as their nutritional needs are begin met.
‘My father told me I was overweight as a teen. Looking back at photos from that time – I wasn’t!’ – L.J.
Teenagers have different nutritional needs to children and adults. The teen years (12 – 18) are a period of rapid growth, brain development, organ and tissue development, and of course hormonal change.
For the teenage body to support all this growth and development teenagers need an adequate nutritional intake.
1,800 to 2,600 calories per day (11-13 years)
2,200 to 3,200 calories per day (14 – 18 years)
1,800 to 2,200 calories per day (11-13 years)
1,800 to 2,400 calories per day (14-18 years)
As any parent of a teenager knows, with a growth spurt comes an increase in appetite! (And you thought you hid your stash of cookies really well!)
Instead of reaching for a salty or sugary snack we should use this increased appetite to encourage extra nutrition into their diet.
According to Nutrition Australia, teens need:
Calcium – 3.5 serves per day (1300mg/day)
Protein – 2.5 serves per day (11mg/day for boys & 15mg/day for girls)
Fruit – 2 serves per day
Vegetables – 5 to 5.5 serves per day
Grains – 5 to 7 serves per day
Healthy Fats – 11 to 20g per day
Extra serves can be given to more active teens, taller teens and teens going through a growth spurt. (No more wondering where your chocolate went.)
The above information is all very good…but what exactly is a serving size?
Vegetables – 75g
Fruit – 150g (a medium apple, orange, banana, etc)
Grain – 1 slice bread, 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles, 30g wheat cereal
Protein – 65g cooked (90-100g raw) lean red meat, 80g cooked (100g raw) lean poultry, 170g tofu, 2 large eggs, 1 cup cooked or canned legumes, 30g seeds, nuts
Calcium – 1 cup (250ml) milk, 2 slices (40g) cheese, 200g yoghurt, 100g almonds with skin, 60g sardines, 100g pink salmon with bones, 100g firm tofu
That all seems pretty straightforward, right?
2. The Overweight Teen
First, some statistics to totally shock us into buying up the fruit and veg aisle of the supermarket…
As of July 2017 (according to renewbariatrics.com) 100 countries worldwide had 20% or more of their population classified as obese.
|The Cook Islands||50.80%|
|The United Kingdom||28.10%|
And if that doesn’t shock you enough…
Obese Teens and Kids
Studies have found that overweight teens don’t necessarily eat more than their thinner peers. It has more to do with a sedentary lifestyle than poor food choices.
But, what do you do if your teen won’t exercise?
Just like good nutrition, good exercise habits are formed at home with the family. (Yes, it’s your fault – again!)
- a family walk after dinner
- get your teen to walk the dog daily or even twice a day (depending on how much of an argument you have the energy for)
- a weekend family bike ride
- a weekend family bushwalk
We have a soccer-mad teen, soccer-mad pre-teen and a teen stuck in the middle who hates soccer! (Therapy here we come!)
On training days Miss 14 and her dad go for a run and/or do boxing. For the cost of a good pair of runners and a boxing/mitt set Miss 14 is getting fit and having fun.
Have a chat with your teen (good luck!) and see what exercise they might like to try.
3. The Underweight Teen
Just like being overweight, being underweight can impact your teens’ health too.
Although being underweight seems like an ideal problem to have for those of us who battle to stay in shape, for those who can’t gain weight it’s just as big of an issue.
Weight gain, just like weight loss, needs to be healthy.
Keep healthy snacks on hand for your teen
- nuts, seeds
- dried fruits
- protein bars
- fresh fruit
- vegetable sticks with (or without) healthy dips
Make sure meals are protein-rich and carbohydrate dense
- brown rice, whole grains
- lean beef, lamb, chicken
If your teen is underweight due to illness and can not stomach large meals, go for smaller mini-meals throughout the day.
Instead of aerobic exercise which will burn much-needed calories, encourage strength training instead. Building muscle is not only healthy but can help build self-esteem as well.
Underweight teens can have growth and development issues, fragile bones, a weak immune system, hair loss, anemia, and later on in life – fertility issues.
So, if you are worried about your underweight teen please seek medical advice.
4. The Athletic Teen
Ah, yes. The Jock.
We all love to hate The Jock. Everything comes so easily for The Jock. Looks. Popularity. Friends.
Then the movie ends…
In reality, we should feel sorry for the parents of The Jock!
- the cost of all the sports fees, uniforms, equipment
- not to mention travelling all over the state/country for competitions/games
- the constantly increasing grocery bill
- the empty pantry (two days after filling it with a week’s worth of food!)
- and, of course, the constant ‘What’s for dinner?’, ‘What’s for lunch?’, ‘I’m hungry!’ ‘There’s nothing to eat!’
Teenage athletes have higher energy needs than the ‘average’ teen. Not only do they need to consume enough nutrients for their growing bodies, they also have to eat the right foods at the right time for optimum performance.
‘If I ate the number of carbs my 16-year-old son eats in one sitting, I’d be on the sofa in a food coma!’ – Rae
Of course, Rae’s son trains seven times a week for 90 to 120 minutes each session and plays competitively one afternoon a week.
Just thinking about that makes me exhausted!
Although calcium intake for teenage athletes is the same as for other teens, their intake of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats is similar to adult athletes.
1.3g to 1.8g per kg of body weight per day
Adjust per daily demands
20-30% daily energy intake
If your teenage athlete finds it difficult to reach their energy needs, extra unsaturated fats can help. ie. nuts, salmon, avocado
If you are worried about your teenage athlete’s nutrition, please seek advice from a qualified sports nutritionist.
5. The Vegetarian Teen
The teenage years are full of change and burgeoning independence.
So, what do you do if your once meat loving teen suddenly announces they are vegetarian?
Are you going to be preparing two different meals every night? (I hope not!)
First things first…
What type of vegetarian is your teen?
- does not eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs
- eats dairy products
Lacto Ovo Vegetarian
- does not eat meat, poultry, fish
- eats dairy products, eggs
- does not eat any animal product at all
- (see #6. The Vegan Teen)
For most parents, the biggest concern they have when their teen announces they are now vegetarian is – ‘What am I going to feed them?’
Replacing animal protein with carbohydrates is often the first choice but unfortunately, it makes your vegetarian teens’ diet nutritionally unbalanced.
But, contrary to popular belief, protein deficiency among vegetarians is not common.
Here are some protein choices, not only for vegetarians but the whole family too, thanks to healthline.com
Made from gluten, seitan contains 25g of protein per 100 grams
Made from soybeans and contains 10g to 19g of protein per 100 grams
Cooked or canned, lentils contain 18g of protein per cup
Cooked chickpeas and most cooked beans contain 15g of protein per cup
Nutritional yeast contains 14g of protein per ounce (28 grams)
Spelt & Teff
Cooked, these ancient grains contain 10g – 11g of protein per cup
Hempseed contains 10g of protein per ounce (28 grams) – and no, your teen won’t get stoned!
The simple, cooked, green pea contains 9g of protein per cup
This superfood contains 8g of protein per 30ml (two tablespoons!)
Amaranth & Quinoa
Cooked, amaranth & quinoa both have 8g to 9g of protein per cup
Not just a character on The Walking Dead, Ezekiel and other bread made from sprouted grains contain 8g of protein per 2 slices
Soy milk contains 7g of protein per cup
Oats & Oatmeal
Cooked oats & oatmeal contain 6g of protein per half cup
Cooked wild rice contains 7g of protein per cup
Chia seeds are great for adding to baking and contain 6g of protein per 35g serve
Nuts, nut butter and other seeds contain 5g to 7g of protein per ounce (28grams)
Cooked broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, sweet corn and brussels sprouts contain 4g to 5g of protein per cup
Guava, cherimoyas, mulberries, blackberries, nectarines and bananas contain 2g to 4g of protein per cup
If organizing recipes and/or adding these protein sources to meals seems daunting to you, get your teen to research recipes the whole family will like. It’s a great way to get your teen in the kitchen and give you a night off, too!
6. The Vegan Teen
Just like the vegetarian teen, the vegan teen does not eat meat. But they also don’t eat eggs or any dairy products at all.
This can make meeting their daily calcium requirements daunting for you. Remember, your growing teen needs 1300mg of calcium a day – that’s three serves.
Here’s an easy way, thanks to vegansociety.com:
|100g uncooked calcium-set tofu||350mg|
|2 slices calcium fortified bread||242mg|
|125g calcium fortified soy yoghurt||150mg|
|200ml calcium fortified plant milk||240mg|
|80g cooked kale||120mg|
|30g dried figs||75mg|
|1 x tablespoon chia seeds||60mg|
Without red meat in the diet, adequate iron intake can also be an issue – especially for teenage girls.
Teenage Boys Need 11mg Iron per Day
Teenage Girls Need 15mg Iron per Day
Here are some choices, thanks to nutritionaustralia.org:
|Food||Serving Size||Iron Content|
|Kidney Beans||1 Cup||3.1mg|
|Green Lentils||1 Cup||3mg|
|Cooked Whole Wheat Pasta||1 Cup||2.3mg|
|Raw Spinach||1 Cup||1.12mg|
|Cooked Brown Rice||1 Cup||0.7mg|
|Wholegrain Bread||1 Slice||0.4mg|
The temptation to buy packaged vegan products like vegan burgers, sausages, etc from the frozen or health aisle of the supermarket will be great. But, one thing to remember is to always check the sodium content.
According to most health organizations, the maximum recommended sodium intake for teens and adults is 2300mg per day – which is equivalent to one teaspoon!
‘Too bad everything tastes better to my hubby and kids with extra salt – or snow, as it’s known in our house!’
So, there you have it. All the information you need to make sure you are raising healthy homeschooled teens.
Now all you have to do is get them to ditch the junk food, lose the salty and/or sugary tastebuds and eat your healthy, nutrition filled meals. (And you thought trying to feed a fussy toddler was hard!)
There are many organizations and websites to help you plus thousands of recipe books! It doesn’t have to be hard. Sometimes simply ditching the meat from a main meal and adding a protein substitute and some herbs and spices will work for your vegan or vegetarian teen.
Adding a cupful (or two) of mixed vegetables to your meat based sauces adds extra nutrition for the carnivorous family too. (Pureed if your teens are really fussy!)
It’s all about trial and error. And, if there are too many errors and you have a dog it will be the best-fed dog on the street!
Do you have a go-to meal filled with nutrients for your growing teens? If so, please share. We all need extra inspiration occasionally.
Are your teens eating through your weekly grocery budget after only two days? How do you cope with that?
What sporting activities do your teens do? Are you rushing here and there without a moment to breathe?
Are your teens fit and healthy?
Are they couch potatoes you have to dig up and shovel out of the house?
Whatever type of teen you have, there is never any judgement here. Just advice, compassion and commiseration.
Sometimes it’s hard, but remember…
Enjoy the Journey,
If you are in any way worried about the health and nutritional requirements of your teen, please seek medical advice as this article contains general information only.
Author: Lara Galea
Lara is a freelance writer, blogger, photographer and homeschooler. When not helping others with their journey, she is either reading, binge-watching Netflix or creating havoc in the kitchen.