Do Teens Really Eat More? How To Support Growing Nutritional Needs


As your child enters their teen years, they start to experience a lot of changes. With their developing bodies and more complex emotions comes a spike in their diet. As teens start to gain more independence, how can parents and guardians make sure they are making food choices that will aid in their development?

Halle Saperstein, a registered dietitian for Henry Ford Health, answers some common questions she gets about the importance of proper teen nutrition and how parents or guardians can help educate teens at this young age so they have a better chance of choosing healthier food options for themselves as they get older.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Nutrition

Q: Do teen dietary needs vary from adult nutritional needs?

Saperstein: Yes, adult and teen nutrition varies quite a bit. A significant amount of the body’s growth begins to take place around ages 10-12 and peaks around 13-14. Because a teen’s body is growing and developing so much at this time, they have higher metabolic needs. This means they need more calories and more vitamins and minerals, especially certain ones like calcium.

Q: Do boys and girls eat the same amount?

Saperstein: Children are developing differently at this age, so they have different caloric needs. For example, the more active your child is, the more calories they will need to keep going throughout the day. Boys typically require about 2,500-3,000 calories a day at this age to help with their rapid growth. Girls generally only need about 2,200 calories a day but tend to need more vitamins and minerals such as iron as they begin menstruation.

Q: How can your teen’s diet impact their growth and development?

Saperstein: During our teenage years, the body is going through a lot of changes. Building strong bones is one of the most important things to consider at this time. Making sure your teen is getting enough calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D while they are young can help prevent osteoporosis and bone injuries that come up as they age. The body needs certain nutrients from food to help with development as well including:

  • Fiber to help regulate digestion
  • Iron to help replenish red blood cells
  • Vitamin C to help your body absorb iron
  • Lean proteins to help build muscle

Q: How can poor nutrition as a teen impact someone later in life?

Saperstein: Obesity in adolescence can be a predisposition for obesity as an adult. Paying attention to your teen’s eating habits and encouraging healthful eating at a young age can help your teen make healthy food choices for themselves as they get older.

Q: What exactly does good nutrition look like for teenagers?

Saperstein: My advice would be to follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Encourage healthy eating. Think three meals a day with up to two healthy snacks.
  2. Serve balanced meals. An example of a balanced entrée might be a protein with two sides (a vegetable and good source of carbohydrates).
  3. Promote hydration. Drinking water is often not considered when thinking about nutrition but staying hydrated can help curb snacking.
  4. Limit sugar intake. Avoid keeping sugary or processed foods in the house. Instead offer healthier dessert options when your child is looking for something sweet.
  5. Watch the caffeine. With fancy drinks available at coffee shops and highly marketed energy drinks everywhere, it is hard for teens to avoid getting well over the recommended caffeine dose each day. Not only can too much caffeine be dangerous, but it can also impact sleep. For teens, sleep at this age is extremely important for development.

Q: How can parents help guide healthy food choices?

Saperstein: One of the best things you can do as a parent is to lead by example. Model a healthy lifestyle so your child sees this as the standard to follow. You should also consider:

  • Stocking the house with healthy snack options
  • Taking your kids to the store so they have a hand in picking snacks and planning meals
  • Allowing kids to try new foods (sample dishes from around the world or pick up a weird fruit from the store)
  • Finding healthy alternatives to junk foods
  • Eating more meals at home

Q: My teen is struggling with their relationship with food. How can I help?

Saperstein: Healthy eating is only one part of the equation when it comes to teen nutrition. Promoting a well-rounded heathy lifestyle is the best way to have a positive body image. There is a fine line between dieting and eating healthy. Make sure that your encouragement of healthy eating does not turn into limiting your child or disparaging their food choices and eating habits.

Q: What if my teen isn’t hungry – is it okay to skip meals?

Saperstein: Skipping meals is not recommended for teens. While it can be easy to skip meals – especially when school starts early or with extracurricular activities, skipping meals has been linked to poor school performance. Skipping breakfast can also cause overeating at later meals in the day. Food is our main source of energy. The body needs key nutrients to help us power through the day. If by lunch, your teen hasn’t had food since dinner the night before, they aren’t going to be their best self.

Q: What resources are out there to learn more about teen nutrition?

Saperstein: The 5210 model is great resource and can be applied to children of all ages. Every day, it encourages 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 hours of screen time or less, 1 hour of physical activity and 0 sugar or sweetened drinks. Other great resources include the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate Food Groups. Henry Ford Health offers outpatient nutrition services to help if medical nutrition therapy is needed.

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 To find a registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit or call 1-800-436-7936.

Halle Saperstein, RD, is a clinical dietitian at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and enjoys teaching the importance and benefits of a healthy diet.

Categories: EatWell