Feeding Your Teenager - Part 1
Adolescence is a time of tremendous change. As teens mature, they make more food choices on their own, often in the company of influential peers.
But even as teens become more autonomous, it's still up to their parents to provide them with good examples and nutritious foods. Here are some tips on how to go about doing that.
Help Teens Make Good Choices
Deciding what to eat and how much to exercise is part of growing up. But too often, a child's choices give health the short shrift. Teens may lack the skills and motivation to do what they should to stay healthy.
"Balancing school, sports, social activities, and work presents a major challenge to eating healthy," says Kendrin Sonneville, MS, RD, who specializes in teenat Children's Hospital in Boston.
On-the-go adolescents may squander opportunities for good nutrition by skimping on foods that help fuel their growth and development. Skipping meals, especially breakfast, and choosing processed and convenience foods over fresh translates into too much fat, sodium and sugar, and not enough of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals essential to a teen's health now and later.
Calcium is Critical
Calcium, critical to bone development and density, is one of the nutrients that can easily fall through the cracks.
Calcium needs are higher than ever during the teen years -- 1,300 milligrams a day. Yet calcium consumption often drops off in teenagers as they replace milk with soft drinks. Research shows that 9th- and 10th-grade girls who drink soft drinks are three times as likely to suffer a bone fracture than those who do not drink them.
In addition to being naturally rich in calcium, milk is fortified with vitamin D, which also helps to shore up bones. Certain yogurts contain vitamin D; check the label to be sure. While they're calcium-rich, hard cheeses lack vitamin D.
Teens require the calcium equivalent of about four 8-ounce glasses of milk daily. Here are some other foods that supply as much calcium as a glass of milk:
- 8 ounces yogurt
- 1 1/2 ounces hard cheese
- 8 ounces calcium-added orange juice
- 2 cups low-fat cottage cheese.
Girls Need Extra Iron
Iron, as a part of red blood cells, is necessary for ferrying oxygen to every cell in the body. It's crucial to a teen's brain function, immunity, and energy level. Girls aged 14 to 18 need 15 milligrams per day. Boys in the same age range need 11 milligrams.
Iron deficiency is common in adolescent females and people who limit or eschew meat. Menstruating young women are at increased risk for an iron shortfall because their diets may not contain enough iron-rich foods to make up for monthly losses.
Iron is found in both animal and plant foods. The iron in animal foods is better absorbed by the body, but consuming a vitamin-C rich food along with plant iron increases uptake. Serve these iron-rich animal foods to your teen as part of a balanced diet (shoot for 4-6 ounces a day):
Good non-meat sources of iron include:
- Vegetables (including spinach, green peas, and asparagus)
- Iron-fortified breads, cereal, rice, and pasta.
A multivitamin with 100% or less of the Daily Value for iron, vitamin D and other nutrients fills in the gaps in less-than-stellar diets. But multivitamins do not contain enough calcium to make up for inadequate consumption of calcium-rich foods. Your child may need a calcium supplement too
The Dieting Dilemma
Adolescents often feel pressure to limit what they eat so they can conform to a certain look. They may also restrict food intake to achieve a certain weight for a sport like wrestling or gymnastics, or for social events, such as proms.
"Any sudden change in a teen's eating habits, like constant dieting or uncontrollable eating, is cause for concern," says Sonneville, who specializes in eating disorders. Other signs include; a preoccupation with food, , or cooking; compulsive exercise; or social isolation; visiting the bathroom after eating; and avoiding social situations involving food.
If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, such asnervosa, bulimia, or binge-eating, express your concern in a supportive manner, says Sonneville. But don't be surprised if your teen gets defensive and denies having a problem.
"Schedule an appointment with your child's primary-care physician to help minimize the food-related arguments between you and your child," she says.
Diagnosing and treating eating disorders is not easy. Neither is preventing them. Keep disparaging remarks about your own body, as well as your child's, to yourself to encourage a healthy weight and strong self-esteem.
"Parents who diet constantly or make negative comments about their bodies or certain foods can pass along their disordered relationship with food to their children," Sonneville says.
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