Nutrition for Growing Teens

Teens grow at an enormous rate. This growth spurt requires the right kind of food -- and lots of it!


Between Jeffrey's 14th and 15th birthdays, he grew 12 inches, shooting up from only 5 feet tall to a manly 6 feet. His growth was so rapid that he looks elongated and ungainly -- all elbows, knees, and Adam's apple.

"How can he be so skinny?" his mother wonders. "He eats us out of house and home!"

A growth spurt like Jeffrey's requires an immense amount of food. His body hungers for protein to build tissue and muscle, calcium to strengthen and lengthen bones, iron to support the increasing volume of the blood in his veins -- and much, much more.

Meanwhile, Maureen has reached her adult height at age 15. But, unlike Jeffrey, she has grown slowly and steadily over a longer period of time. Even so, her nutritional needs are proportionately as great as his. In one specific way, in fact, they are greater. Because she has reached puberty and has begun experiencing her monthly period, she needs a significant amount of iron.

A Foundation for the Future

Good nutrition is important to teenagers for many reasons. But the most significant reason is this: what they eat today affects their bodies tomorrow and all through their future. Slender or plump, strong-boned or weak, what your teenager turns into in the future starts with eating habits learned in childhood.

A good diet, moreover, can help prevent several serious diseases that are quite common in older adults. Heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, some types of cancer -- all have been linked to a person's lifetime diet.

Teenagers (indestructible and immortal, or so they believe) will not forgo their bacon cheeseburgers based on some vague benefit promised for their unthinkable and far-off old age. So, don't waste your breath on these arguments. Yet, as a responsible parent, you have to convince your teen that a good diet really does matter.

So, what should parents tell their sons and daughters? Tell them the truth -- but a truth they can relate to. Tell them that a good diet will help them feel more energetic, earn better grades, and be both more attractive and more popular. Another fact? Good-looking, successful "doers" seem to attract friends automatically!

Breakfast Is a Boon

Helen L. Miller asked her 10th grade homeroom, "How many of you ate breakfast this morning?"

She saw only a smattering of hands. Undaunted, the home economics teacher asked her standard follow-up question: "How many of you would like to eat breakfast?"

Every hand rose.

Miller isn't teaching in some third-world nation where war or natural disaster led to famine. Oh, no. She teaches in an affluent New Jersey suburb. And the kids in Williamstown High School are no different than their peers across the nation. They'd rather spend that extra 15 minutes in bed than get up to deal with breakfast.

The end result?

  • Kids running on empty.
  • Kids who do not learn well.
  • Medical research has shown time and time again that they don't remember their lessons.
  • They're inattentive, listless, and they're cranky.

You can lick the problem with a healthy, delicious meal -- one that will get your kid's day off to a strong start.


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