Healthy eating for adolescents
The teenage years are a time of rapid growth and development, so a healthy balanced diet is particularly important. Healthy, active young people can have large appetites. If you're a teenager, it's important to eat well-balanced meals, rather than too many snacks that are high in fat, sugar or salt.
What to eat
You should eat a healthy balanced diet that matches your energy needs. This should be made up of the five main food groups of the Eatwell guide:
- fruit and vegetables
- starchy foods, such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
- beans and pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
- dairy and alternatives
- oils and spreads
Further information and tips are available at:
Key nutrients during adolescents
Iron is essential for teenager’s health due to it being a period of fast growth and development.
It is especially important for teenage girls as they start menstruating.
Iron can be found in animal sources (meat and fish) and plant sources (wholegrain cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, pulses and dried fruits).
Your body absorbs iron from meat and fish more easily than from vegetables.
However if your child does not eat meat or fish they can still get enough iron from foods such as fortified breakfast cereals, pulses and dark green leafy vegetables.
It is important to have some foods or drinks containing vitamin C when eating iron rich vegetable sources as this helps with the absorption of iron.
Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth as well as the function of muscles and nerves.
During the teenage years, calcium requirements are high due to it being a period of rapid growth and development.
Adolescents (from 11 to 18 years old) should aim for the following amounts of calcium per day:
- boys: 1000mg
- girls: 800mg
Foods containing calcium include:
- milk puddings
- fortified breakfast cereals
- canned fish with bones (salmon, mackerel, pilchards)
- calcium fortified bread
Vitamin D is important for healthy bones muscles and teeth.
It helps the absorption of calcium from foods.
The best source of Vitamin D is sunshine.
All adults and children over the age of one should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mg of Vitamin D especially during autumn and winter as the sun’s rays are not strong enough to make vitamin D.
What to avoid
Foods high in fat, particularly saturated fat, sugar or salt, should only be eaten in small amounts or not very often.
Limit how much fast food you eat.
These foods can be high in saturated fat, salt and/ or sugars, which can be bad for your health when eaten in large amounts.
From the age of 11, everyone should try to eat no more than 6g salt and 30g of sugar a day.
Energy drinks are not recommended for children and young people under the age of 16 and should be limited in over 16s and adults.
They contain high levels of sugar and often contain high levels of caffeine.
High doses of caffeine can be linked to anxiety and sleep problems.
Avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin because these contain high levels of mercury compared to other fish which, until the age of 16, might affect a young person's developing nervous system.
Being active and eating a healthy balanced diet is important for everyone. Teenagers should be aiming for at least an hour of physical activity every day.
In particular, it's a good idea to:
- cut down on sweets, cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks
- eat fewer fatty foods such as chips, burgers and fried food and processed foods such as instant noodles
- eat regular balanced meals
- base meals on starchy foods, choosing wholegrain varieties whenever possible
- eat more fruit and vegetables
Aim to drink six to eight glasses of fluid every day. Water, low fat milk and sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee all count.
Weight management is complex and challenging and many factors are involved.
If you are concerned about your weight speak with your school nurse or GP.
Being vegetarian or vegan
Vegetarian or vegan diets can be healthy, as long as a wide variety of foods are eaten.
However, you need to take extra care to make sure that you get all the protein, vitamins, iron and other minerals needed, especially if you are following a vegan diet.
Vitamin B12 and riboflavin are found in animal food sources only so it is recommended that you take these as supplements.
Further advice to make sure you are getting enough nutrients, including protein and iron, is available at: