Of all the early stages of our development our teen years are some of the most critical and most often neglected nutritionally. While correct infant, child and teen nutrition are all essential for balanced and healthy development, teenage nutrition is probably the most difficult to control as a parent and is often made more difficult by the additional emotional issues faced by most teens.

The teenage years are also particularly demanding physically with frequent growth spurts and increased physical activity placing unique and sometimes extreme demands on the teen’s body. It is also an extremely sensitive and difficult time emotionally during which many teens experience intense peer and environmental pressure that only exacerbates the natural emotional upheavals that characterise the teenage years.

This pressure is often the root cause of not only bad eating habits but serious and even life threatening eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. It is therefore essential that parents monitor their teens eating habits closely and intervene in a supportive and no confrontational manner if the bus starts to leave the road. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to encourage the eating of regular family meals. Teens tend to eat away from home with increasing frequency and this is usually where bad eating patterns start to develop.

Although eating out with friends is absolutely normal and healthy behaviour, it does tend to be far easier to pick up a couple of burgers than to try and get a decent meal. If these fast food meals are balanced with healthy home cooking on a regular basis you can still ensure that your teen receives good, solid and teenage diet relevant nutrition. It also goes a long way to strengthening family bonds which is always a good thing.

Teenage nutrition is tempered by legendary appetites and snaking is an inescapable reality when you have a teen in the house. Snacking need not be a bad thing though if your teen is encouraged to snack on the right foods. Fresh fruit (or veg if your teen is so inclined), whole grain breads and crackers, bagels, fruit juice, yogurt and cheese are all great quick fixes that do a lot more good than bad and hit the spot when the mid-meal munchies take over.

Dietary specifics for teenagers tend to lean pretty heavily towards calorie rich foods high in quality nutrients. The year where most teenagers show the most spectacular growth is the one period where high calorie teenage diets are essential to maintain the extreme demands placed on their bodies. This is usually 12 for girls and 14 for boys but this may differ. Essential trace elements, vitamins, essential fats and high quality protein are also essential for healthy development, but during this period high carb diets should enjoy an element of preference.

During these accelerated growth periods a girl will require approximately 2,400 calories per day and boys need between 2,800 and 3,000. Now maintaining that sort of calorific intake isn’t hard considering the ravenous appetites teens have, the trick is to ensure that the calories in a teenage diet are balanced with an adequate trace and protein component. Fortunately these dietary elements can be found in abundance in many foods that teens love. The important thing is to create an environment where they can have these included in their meals.

This brings us back to the emotional aspect of teen nutrition. A happy, balanced home environment where the teen feels secure, appreciated and respected is an essential base for healthy development in all teens. This goes for meal times as anyone knows that appetite suffers when you are stressed and teens are dealing with enough of that normally. So paying attention the home environment, although a very broad subject on its own can work wonders in getting you teen home and champing at the bit at meal times.

I am not in any way suggesting that one has to go to extremes to ensure that good teenage nutrition is maintained, but you will find if your teen looks forward to meal times at home it will be far easier to get those healthy meals down the red lane and where they can do the most good. One should also avoid having food become a bone of contention in the home. This tends to drive the teen to the burger joint quicker than anything else. Respect their tastes and rather try to strike some compromise on the meals than force an eating regimen on them. Healthy eating should never become something done only when Mom and Dad are around.

The teen years tend to more critical in the formation of good eating habits where the early years tend to be more formative in terms of specific tastes in food. When I say habits I mean the when, where and what parts of eating. These are foundation years so put the extra effort in for your child’s sake and never underestimate your teen’s ability to make canny, informed choices. They are really very smart creatures after all and you may find that a healthy teenage diet comes naturally.

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