We all know that teenagers can be difficult to feed – one day they’re starving and nearly eat you out of house and home, and the next they can be picky and difficult. It can be a time of food experimentation and trying new regimes, such as going vegetarian. If you’re in search of nutrition facts for teenagers, look no further.

It’s also a time of growth and this means that making good food choices is really important.

Protein and carbs

Teenagers have a higher need for protein and carbohydrate to meet their growth needs.

It’s important to base the teen diet around plenty of whole grain breads and cereals, fruit, vegetables and lean meats, with low fat dairy products.

High fat, high salt, processed carbs and high sugar foods and drinks should be minimised, and taken only in moderation – as they should at all stages of life. It’s important for teenagers to learn this now though, as it’s common for high fat/high sugar foods to be used in place of proper meals, eating on the run, or frequenting fast food restaurants.

Choices they make around food at this age will affect how they perceive food going into adulthood.


With the increased growth rate, the need for iron increases as blood volume rises.

This is also a time when blood loss can increase due to the onset of the menstrual cycle. For these reasons it’s important to include iron-rich foods in the diet, such as lean meat, chicken and seafood. A good intake of fruit and vegetables will help iron absorption from plant-based foods.


Calcium needs are also high at this time. Girls, however, will often decide at this time to stop drinking milk, thinking that it’s fattening.

Adolescence is a vital time for skeletal development and it’s important that teenagers consume adequate calcium, ideally from low fat milks which are a better source of calcium than standard or homogenised milk.

Make sure these products are available at home, and encourage your teenagers to drink them. Great snack options can be based around milk drinks, cheese and yoghurt – all low fat varieties, of course – to help ensure adequate calcium.

Eating for energy

Many teenagers are involved in sporting activities after school. In fact, 90% of New Zealand teens do 3 or more hours of sport a week, and 70% are in some sort of formal coaching:

Source: Sport New Zealand
Source: Sport New Zealand

So making sure they’re well fuelled for training sessions is important for their health and to help them maximise their performance.

I often see teenagers who go straight from school to a training session without eating a snack or having a drink beforehand. Planning and remembering to take an extra snack to school to have before training sessions is key. Taking an extra sandwich or roll, extra fruit (fresh or a pottle of fruit), crackers, a cereal bar, or a fruit muffin would all be good options in the school bag.

If there’s time, eat at home first, where options might include a milk drink, yoghurt, breakfast cereal, baked beans, spaghetti, crumpets, toast and the like.

Anorexia and bulimia

While there’s a lot of focus on obesity we can’t ignore the fact there’s an increasing prevalence of eating disorders at a young age.

Children become intensely aware of body image around the age of 12-13, and in some cases even earlier.

A New Zealand study was done which found that 80% of females in the study were within normal weight limits, but only 18% of them thought their weight was normal.

Anorexia and bulimia are complex disorders and no single factor can be blamed for their development. However, parental beliefs and behaviours can be a huge influence on children and adolescents, and how they view their own body.

Therefore it’s very important that from a young age appropriate attitudes to shape and body size are fostered through positive comments which help build their self-esteem.

Early detection of attitudes which may indicate an eating disorder is also critical and, while it may be frightening to ask for help on such issues, the earlier that support and treatment is initiated the more likely it is that a good outcome will be achieved. If you’re at all worried about an eating disorder try getting in touch with EDANZ.

Talking about nutrition

Research shows that most teenagers do know what’s good for them when it comes to food. However they’re easily influenced by taste and what’s easily accessible to them. So talk to your teens and help them to get all the nutrition facts for teenagers too. By discussing nutrition together, as a family, you can all help each other to grow healthy.

Aside from keeping the lines of communication open, the key thing is to make sure that healthy options are available at home. Teenagers will want to make their own choices about nutrition, but you can still be on hand to help guide those decisions. Just by having lots of healthy options available will really help.

Keeping them well fuelled is vital at a stage when they’re growing so rapidly, facing huge educational demands and developing social independence.

For more information on teenage nutrition, check out our teenage Food and nutrition, and Health and wellbeing sections.

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Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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stink pants, you suck. Get to bed, Susan Boyle…

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