Eating a healthy and balanced diet during the teenage years is essential as it aids the rapid growth and development that is typical of this phase. According to the National Institute of Nutrition at the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), teenagers require anywhere between 2,000–3,020 kcal/day and 40–62 g/day of protein for adequate growth depending on their age, stage of development and gender.
Why does gender affect nutrient requirements?
Gender has a marked effect on nutrient requirements of teenagers. Girls may require more calories and proteins in the early teenage years as they mature earlier than boys. The requirement in boys is higher in the later years. Girls also require higher amounts of iron compared to boys, to meet the iron losses during menstruation. Hence, the diet differs for boys and girls.
Diet plan for teenage boys and girls
Below is a sample diet plan for teenage boys and girls. The portion sizes would vary depending on age, development and gender. Hence, it is essential to contact a qualified dietitian for a personalised diet plan.
- Milk with brown bread sandwich
- Omelette or boiled eggs with milk
- Poha or upma or idli with milk
- Cereal with milk
- Any fruit with 3–4 almonds and 2–3 walnuts
- Salad with chapati or rice, curd and a vegetable or sprouts curry
- Masala dosa (without butter) with sambar and salad
- Salad with chapati or rice and a chicken/fish/egg curry
- Fruit and roasted chana (chickpeas)
Healthy meal habits for teenagers
- Always start the day with breakfast. The brain utilises carbohydrates as a source of energy. As stored-up carbohydrate exhausts after an overnight fast, it is essential for teenagers to eat breakfast. It enables them to concentrate better. Also, it ensures they do not consume unhealthy meals during mid-mornings.
- Let your teen eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day as they are storehouses of vitamins and antioxidants, which are essential for maintaining good skin and overall health.
- There is a significant deposition of calcium in the bones during the teenage years. Hence, include 2–3 servings of milk and milk products in the diet. Also, make sure that your teen is eating other calcium-rich foods such as sesame seeds, soybean, ragi, cauliflower, greens and nuts.
- Let your teen carry some dried fruits and nuts such as almonds, groundnuts, dates, figs and roasted chana (chickpeas) in her bag. When hungry, she can munch on these healthy alternatives, rather than buying chips or other junk food.
- Teenage is the time for rapid growth and development, and hence protein requirements are high during this period. Include at least one serving of protein-rich foods such as pulses, sprouts, eggs, meat, fish, chicken and soy in each meal.
- There has been a significant rise in adolescent hypertension in recent times. Hence, ask your teen to avoid table salt and food that is high in salt content.
- Get your teen to avoid fried and ready-to-eat snacks, as these foods tend to be very high in calories and salt, and often don’t provide any other nutrients.
- Instead of meeting friends at cafes, let your teen meet them in playgrounds or beaches where she can indulge in some sports activity (ensure she takes safety measures).
- Fizzy drinks, cold coffees, iced-teas and energy drinks are high in calories. So, when out with friends, your teen should, instead, opt for fresh fruit juices, sugarcane juice and buttermilk.
- Cut down on chocolates, cakes and ice-cream as they are high in calories. Reserve these for birthdays and special occasions, and restrict to one serving.
Foods for healthy skin
Acne break out is common during this age. Some dietary modifications can help prevent it.
- Teens should drink at least 8–10 glasses of water every day.
- Let your teen eat one citrus fruit such as orange/sweet lime/ lemon/ grapefruit daily as they are rich in vitamin C and can prevent acne break out.
- Other fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes/ beetroots/ mangoes/ watermelon/ cantaloupe/ muskmelon/ bell peppers are a good source of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Include these fruits in your teen's daily diet, for healthy skin.
Other health tips
- Encourage your teen to meditate for 15 minutes every day to combat stress.
- Get your teen to take up a physical activity for 45 mins, at least five days a week. Physical activity helps fight stress and keeps obesity and other metabolic illnesses at bay.
To conclude, a balanced diet, which includes all food groups, and adequate physical activity are essential to maintain good health during teenage years.
Dr Neha Sanwalka Rungta is a paediatric nutritionist and director of NutriCanvas.
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