Fuel for Growth

Learn all about your teen's caloric and nutritional needs and why pizza and french fries aren't enough.
Food as Fuel

What do teenagers need from food? Calories. And, for most kids, lots of them! Calories provide them with energy to study, play ball, run for the school bus, bike to a friend's house, learn the latest dance, crawl the mall, and all the other great and silly things they do each day.

Yet, even in these growth years, teens must be taught to be aware of how much they are eating. Their calorie needs vary by their age and level of activity. Clearly, a cerebral 12-year-old with an Internet addiction simply doesn't need as much food as his 16-year-old sister who runs cross-country track.

And student athletes in a training program may consume -- and use up -- 3,000 or more calories a day. For kids who mostly sit -- sit in class, sit in front of the TV or computer -- counting calories and/or exercising is the only way to avoid becoming fat. For these kids, low-fat meals and low-cal snacks are important.

Make the Calories Count

Of course, not just any calories will do. The calories your kids consume should be loaded with carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. And that means eating real food. The calories from soda or candy, for example, are called "empty calories" because they provide little nutrition.

Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are measured in calories. Carbs and proteins provide about 4 calories per gram. Fat contributes more than twice that amount -- about 9 calories a gram. (Maybe that's why it's called fat!) All these food elements provide the essential vitamins and minerals your children need.

A healthy diet contains the nutrients and calories needed to prevent nutritional deficiencies. It provides the right balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein to help your kids achieve their peak potential.

Your teens, now making many food decisions on their own, need real guidance from you. They should be encouraged to make sensible food choices.

Parents cannot assume that school lunches provide sound nutrition. (After all, salsa has been declared a "vegetable" in the federal school lunch program.) Nor can parents assume that the vending machines in school lobbies and cafeterias are stocked with cold fresh fruit. While some are, most sell those bright and appealing little packages of chips and candy bars.

Continued on page 2:  The Balancing Act