Healthy, growing teens need plenty of fuel to keep them going and growing. Did you know that girls will grow 3-3 ½ inches per year during their teen growth spurt and boys will grow about 4 inches per year? Teen bodies need a lot of good nutrition to keep up with this huge increase in height. Getting the balance right with healthy meals and snacks helps kids grow, have lots of energy and gives them the right nutrients for focus and concentration.
Energy - Fueling Your Body
An active, growing, body needs fuel and carbs are one of the best places for teens to get their energy. Foods like gluten free bread, pasta and breakfast cereals, as well as potatoes and rice are all great source of carbs. It is best to include some at every meal and to go for the high fibre or whole grain varieties as much as you can. Try a wholegrain gluten-free cereal for breakfast, wholegrain gluten free bread at lunch and a jacket potato at dinner. Keep an eye on portion sizes – carbs should make up about 1/3 of the plate at dinner. This means that instead of covering a plate with pasta or rice, it should just make up about 1/3 of the plate with the rest of the meal coming from protein foods (see below) and vegetables or salad.
Protein - Building Healthy Muscles & Bones
Growing muscles and bones need plenty of protein. Protein is found in lots of foods: all kinds of meat, chicken, turkey and fish as well as eggs, beans, lentils and nuts. Teens need some protein foods at lunch and at dinner – but they don’t need a huge amount. Use the ‘palm of their hand’ as a guide. At dinner a teen (and an adult!) needs a piece of meat, chicken or fish that is about the size of the palm of their hand. For beans and lentils, they need about 2/3 of a cup at dinner time or two eggs. At lunch-time they need about ½ of the amount needed for dinner. Lots of people think that playing sports means they need lots of extra protein – but that is only true for adults who are completing at a high level. Teens will be getting all the protein they need from their main meals. If you do want to add some extra protein, milk, yoghurt and cheese are great sources and are rich in calcium as well.
Calcium - Building Strong Bones
Bones needs lots of calcium for strength and to grow. Did you know that teens build 90% of their adult bones before the age of 19? This is the crucial time to help them avoid osteoporosis in later life.
Dairy foods like milk, yoghurt and hard cheese are great places for teens to get calcium. Teens – from age 12 to 19 – need at 5 servings of these foods everyday day to get all of the calcium they need. Remember that butter and cream do not have any calcium (unfortunately!).
1 serving is 200mls (1 glass) of milk or calcium enriched soya milk, 125g pot of yoghurt or about 30g of hard cheese (this size of your two thumbs). Tinned fish like salmon and sardines are also good sources of calcium as long as you eat them with the bones. You can also ‘top up’ calcium by giving children foods like green vegetables as well as ground and chopped nuts and seeds. Just remember that nuts, seeds and vegetables alone will not be enough to give your teen all of the calcium they need. If you teen needs to avoid dairy foods for some reason, do get their diet checked by a CORU Registered dietitian to make sure they are getting all the calcium they need to grow. This is especially important for teens with coeliac disease who are at a higher risk of osteoporosis later in life. You can contact the dietitian at the Coeliac Society (firstname.lastname@example.org) or ask your GP to refer you to the local HSE dietitian.
Tip: Make sure you child is getting enough vitamin D. We need vitamin D to help absorb calcium and to build healthy bones. You can find vitamin D in oil-rich fish like salmon and mackerel and in milks that have vitamin D added. A vitamin D supplement is recommended for anyone with coeliac disease. Look for one that gives 10micrograms of vitamin D per day.
Iron - Energy & Concentration
Iron is needed for healthy blood, good energy levels as well as focus and concentration at school. Teenage girls, in particular, can be low in iron with one Irish study showing that 79% of teenage girls were not meeting targets for iron.
People with coeliac disease often have lower iron levels so this is a really important nutrient to keep an eye on. Teens with coeliac disease need to have their iron checked every year to make sure levels are healthy. Your GP can do this for you.
Red meat is a rich source of iron and teens can have red meat three times a week – try stews, spaghetti Bolognese or shepherd’s pie. Chicken breast is not a great source of iron so if your teen mostly eats chicken do think about adding other iron-rich foods everyday:
- Chicken legs
- Lentils (red, green or brown)
- Chickpeas and other beans
- Tinned sardines
- Seeds especially pumpkin seeds
- Nuts especially almonds and hazelnuts
Fruit & Vegetables
A recent study found that Irish teens are only eating about 3 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C and fibre and, just like adults, teens need to have 5 or more servings a day. This can sound like a lot but the easiest way to approach this is to make sure that at least 1/3 of every meal is fruit, salad or vegetables. Try offering some fruit at breakfast time – a chopped banana, some grapes or a slice of melon. Add salad to sandwiches or include some fruit in their lunchbox for school. Fill dinner plates with vegetables or salad – even if they only like one or two kinds of veg. Try to have vegetables or salad make up at least 1/3 of the plate at dinnertime.
What About Treats?
We all enjoy treats but these foods can be high in fat, salt, sugar or all three! Occasional treats are no harm but treat foods should be kept to a couple of times a week rather than everyday. And go for small sizes – choose fun size bars of chocolate, small packets of crisps and small gluten free cookies: a giant cookie or large muffin has the same calories as 10 biscuits. Teens are much more likely to eat out with friends or go to the shops to get treats. Do talk to them about balancing what they buy – it shouldn’t be a conversation about weight but about overall nutrition and filling up on the nutritious foods before they fill up on the treats.
Strictly Gluten Free
Teens can have a hard time sticking to a gluten free diet. Being out with friends can make them shy about ordering a gluten-free meals. And no teen wants to feel different so they will often eat what everyone else is eating, even if they know it has gluten. It is important that teens with coeliac disease stay on a gluten free diet but do go easy on them. Do get them the Coeliac Food List app on their phone so it’s easier for them to check if a food is gluten free without having to carry the book. Do talk to them about how being gluten free will help them to reach their full height potential and will improve their concentration and focus for school and exams. This is all easier said than done but do get in touch with the Coeliac Society if you want to talk to the dietitian for advice and help. You can also book an appointment at email@example.com. Our in-house chef also runs food clinics that can help teens and adults manage their food on a gluten free diet. You can book a Food Clinic at firstname.lastname@example.org.