Feeding Your Teenager
Parents can help teens learn to make healthy food choices.
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
"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 weight
loss; a preoccupation with food, nutrition, or
cooking; compulsive exercise; depression or social
isolation; visiting the bathroom after eating; and avoiding social situations
If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, such as anorexia
nervosa, 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
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.
You want your 14-year-old to lay off the fries and learn to love broccoli.
Why? Because you know that eating vegetables is linked to a lower chance of
developing chronic conditions such as cancer and heart disease
later in life. That may motivate you to pile your plate with greens, but it
probably won't sway your teen.