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Nutritional Needs for Teens and Tweens
A surge in appetite for growth spurts in teens and tweens means just keeping the fridge full can be challenge enough. But, along with the size growth, nutritional needs grow too. In general, this age group needs more protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals in their daily food choices.
I know first hand what it’s like living with a tween. As parents we want and need to get all the help we can. Having tweens or teens in the house is a demanding time for us and a challenging time for them. Not only are they highly emotional (hormonal) but their physical bodies are growing exponentially requiring added nutritional needs. Many start exploring new foods or diets too.
The goal as a parent is really to encourage healthier choices daily by teaching them about nutrition and teaching them how to cook. I also try to keep most high fat, high sugar foods out of the house to avoid quick, raging hunger grabs. This helps minimize them, but so does educating them about the choices they are making.
Protein is a must with each meal. Encourage them to eat a “palm” sized serving of protein with each meal. Protein helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, keep their bellies full and supports healthy joints, skin, and hair. Some ideas are: chicken, meats, fish, eggs, beans, nuts/seeds, and dairy products. Even vegans and vegetarians need protein, enter seitan and soybean.
Great Grains and Pasta
Encourage complex carbohydrates and minimize white refined foods. Stock the pantry with whole grain breads and pastas, low sugar cereal, brown rice, and healthier cracker options. Making a grilled cheese on whole grain bread and swapping out white rice/pasta for nutrient rich options is a great way to add B-vitamins and fiber to their diet.
Discuss with your teen the concept of “eating the rainbow.” We want colour added to each meal! Top those pancakes with strawberries and blueberries, snack on apples and grapes, add broccoli to rice dishes, and incorporate greens however you can. Try adding spinach to a smoothie, topping your simple sandwich with veggies, and encouraging an extra serving of veggies at dinner.
Healthy Fats for the Diet vs Dieting
Just before they dig in, check that there is a source of healthy fats! Fats fuel the brain, which is super important for growing teens. They also support healthy skin and joints. Fats keep those teens bellies full, which means your they won’t be back an hour later saying they are “starving”! Some foods to include: hemp hearts, flax seed oil, walnuts, salmon, avocado, nuts/seeds.
Reducing the Sugar Grabs
Teens love sugar. Pop, candy, cookies and chips (those potato chips get broken down into sugar in the body), they often crave and desire. Minimize how much you bring into the house. Out of site means out of mind. Also, educate them about the negative effects of sugar on their energy levels, teeth hygiene and immune system, and they just might grab a healthy snack instead.
Supplements to Consider
Picking up a good quality multi-vitamin is a sure fire way to ensure your teen is getting basic nutrients such as; iron, calcium and B-vitamins. If they can swallow a capsule their will be a variety of options. If not, choose a high quality liquid or chewable. Just make sure they aren’t full of sugar or fructose. Fish oils are the best way to feed the brain! The omega-3 oils will also support fluctuating hormones, and balance moods. I love the liquid variety. If your teen can swallow pills, you can get a high dosed capsule. Expect fluctuations in eating, occasional skipped breakfasts and refusals. Keep trying to support healthy choices and body image. Some days, the choices they make are theirs. Some days, they’ll embrace the better nutrition you’ve tried to offer them all along.
Rachel Schwartzman is a board certified naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist. She maintains a general family practice in Toronto. Visit: rachelschwartzman.com.