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As a teen, you have unique dietary needs when it comes to staying healthy and maintaining a balanced diet. You’re also likely experiencing new pressures every day around school, friendships, and your future. Keeping up with your nutritional needs can help protect your physical health and emotional balance.
It’s never too late to start eating right! Knowing what foods can give you the most nutritional bang for your buck is essential to establishing an eating pattern that will keep you fueled throughout the ups and downs of adolescence. In this ultimate guide, we’ll break down the best foods for teenage boys and girls — from breakfast to snacks, protein sources, vegan options, and more!
No matter if you’re an Olympic athlete or just starting to participate in sports or physical activities, this comprehensive guide will provide you with all the information needed to make healthy food choices that will go a long way toward keeping your energy levels high!
Whole Grains for Sustained Energy
As a teen, there’s only so much energy you have in the tank—and you want it to last all day. Eating whole grains is a great way to fuel up on sustained energy that won’t burn out fast. Whole grains are packed with complex carbohydrates, which make them a great alternative to sugary snacks and processed foods. They’re also full of fiber and vitamins that are essential for growing bodies.
What are some examples of whole grains? Oats, brown rice, and barley are all excellent options that can keep you going through the day without crashing. Whole-grain bread and pasta are also good choices—just make sure to watch what toppings you add! By choosing these instead of white-flour carbs like buns, bagels, or pizza dough, you’ll get that long-lasting energy boost and keep your body in balance.
Eating Fruits and Vegetables for Health
As teens, you may think that sweets and junk food are the only options for taste satisfaction, but that’s where you’d be wrong. Health-wise, fruits, and vegetables are the best foods to eat as a teen. Fresh produce is packed with essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy and active.
Fruits and vegetables contain fiber, which helps keep you feeling full between meals. Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can also reduce the risks of some types of cancer and other chronic diseases. Plus, they provide important antioxidants that can help protect your cells from damage.
A balanced diet approved by your doctor or nutritionist should include at least five servings of fruits or vegetables each day. Consider adding these into your daily meals: an orange with breakfast; an apple or banana as an afternoon snack; a salad at lunch; a vegetable side dish or stir-fry at dinner; and fruit for dessert. Not only are these foods good for your health—they’re also delicious!
Healthy Fats for Growth and Development
You might not have thought about it before, but healthy fats are an important part of fueling your body as a teen. Healthy fats are essential for hormonal balance, brain health, and providing the energy you need to excel in the classroom and at after-school activities.
The good news is that there are plenty of delicious foods that contain healthy fats. Here are some great options for getting in those good fats:
Foods like salmon, mackerel, sardines, eggs, and walnuts are all packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are important for brain and nervous system health, so make sure you get plenty of these in your diet!
- Monounsaturated Fats
Monounsaturated fatty acids found in avocados, olives, nuts, and nut butter (like almond butter), help to keep your cholesterol levels stable. These tasty fats can also be cooked at high temperatures without losing their nutritional value — perfect for making a delicious meal!
- Polyunsaturated Fats
A diet rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) can help reduce inflammation – something that comes with many teenage growth spurts. Foods like sunflower seeds, soybean oil, and fish contain PUFAs that can help support your body during this time of development.
So don’t forget about the importance of adding healthy fats to your daily diet—your growing body will thank you for it!
Protein-Rich Foods for Muscle Building
If you’re an active teen (or have a teen in the house!), then you know that protein is key for muscle development. That’s why it’s important to make sure that teens are getting enough protein in their diet. So what are the best protein-rich foods?
- Lean meats
Lean meats like turkey and chicken make great sources of protein, as do fish, such as salmon and tuna. Not only are lean meats high in protein, but they also provide other essential nutrients like iron and B vitamins.
- Dairy products
Yogurt, milk, and cheese all make great sources of protein as well. Just watch out for high-fat versions—choose low-fat or fat-free options instead.
- Legumes and nuts
Legumes like beans, peas, and lentils contain both protein and fiber. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and peanuts also provide healthy sources of fat and protein.
Eating enough healthy proteins can help teens to build more muscle mass without having to resort to unhealthy habits like taking dietary supplements. And by including a variety of these foods in their diet, teens can get the nutrients they need while also ensuring they’re eating nutritious meals throughout the day.
Dairy Products for Bone Health
When it comes to the best foods for teens, dairy products should be high on the list. Dairy products are packed full of nutrients and even calories, which teens need during their growth spurts. And that’s not all—dairy products are also great for bone health!
- Calcium & Vitamin D
Calcium is one of the most important minerals for maintaining strong bones, so it’s no wonder that dairy products are packed with calcium, as well as vitamins D and K. Vitamin D helps the body regulate calcium absorption in the bones, while vitamin K helps with bone mineralization and increases bone strength.
Dairy products are also a great source of protein. This is important for teens because proteins help build muscles and tissues throughout the body—including bones! The protein found in dairy also helps with metabolic processes and can aid in weight management when managed along with a balanced diet.
Plus, dairy products come in all sorts of tasty options: yogurt, kefir, cheese, ice cream (in moderation!), and more. So give your teen some delicious dairy snacks that’ll keep their bones strong and healthy!
Incorporating Lean Meats and Alternatives
While it’s important to get enough protein from different sources, lean meats, and alternatives are a great way for teens to get the nutrients they need without piling on calories. Lean meats like chicken, turkey, fish, and lean cuts of pork or beef are all full of essential vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
Alternatives such as eggs, tofu, and tempeh can also provide protein while being low in fat and calories. Plant-based proteins are a great option as they’re usually cheaper than animal proteins — plus they’re packed with fiber!
Regardless of whether you opt for animal or plant-based proteins, try to focus on unprocessed options such as:
- Fresh poultry without skin
- Unprocessed cuts of pork or beef
- Fish such as salmon and mackerel
- Tofu and tempeh
- Beans, lentils, and chickpeas
- Nuts, nut butter, seeds
Eating healthy can help give teens the energy they need to stay active and engaged. A diet that’s balanced in the right amounts of proteins, fruits, vegetables, and grains will ensure that teens get the proper nutrition their growing bodies need. The best foods for teens are those that provide a good balance of essential nutrients without excess calories.
It’s important to encourage teens to eat a variety of foods and to keep portion sizes in check. With the right balance of nutrients, teens can grow up feeling energized and in control of their own health. Eating the best foods for teens is just one way to promote healthy lifestyle habits that can last a lifetime.