Teenagers are notorious for their terrible eating habits. They typically eat only what tastes good or what's within reach. Since their bodies are still growing and developing, good nutrition during the teen years is crucial to preventing diseases like cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Preparing healthy meals at home will help teens set good eating habits that will follow them throughout their lives. "The foods moms make at home have to be full of super nutrition," says Janice Newell Bissex, author of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers (Broadway Books, 2004). Superfoods -- foods that are loaded with powerful nutrients -- are the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals they need.
What Teens Need
More than any other age group, teens need a lot of energy. Energy comes from calories and on a daily basis, teenage boys need about 2,500 to 3,000; teenage girls need about 2,200 calories. The good news is that most teens have no problem acquiring them. But parents should note how the calories are being consumed. A bag of potato chips with a 44-ounce Big Gulp will add calories quickly, but fatty snacks and sugary soda drinks contain very little nutrients. So obviously this typical teenage meal will contribute only to weight gain, and not to your teen's overall health.
Calcium and iron are two essential nutrients for teens because they help build strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Teen athletes especially need calcium for maintaining muscle tissue and a regular heart beat. Iron helps red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body, giving kids energy. Signs of weakness and fatigue usually translate to a shortage of iron in the diet.
Teenage girls are especially concerned about body image, so they tend to avoid fatty items like dairy products. Bissex says they are hurting themselves in the long run by doing this. "Teen girls are missing out on good fats like omega-3 and monounsaturated fats," she says. Omega-3 fat is good for healthy skin, hair, and the immune system. It's also been shown to reduce depression.
Of course, the most important thing to remember in preparing food is taste. "Taste is number one," says Bissex. "You can have the healthiest food in the world but if it doesn't taste good, then nobody will eat it." Here are 17 superfoods -- teen-tastebud approved -- that should be added to every teen diet to help them get all the vitamins and minerals they need for their active lifestyle.