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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):

  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Pork
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Eggs

Good non-meat sources of iron include:

  • Vegetables (including spinach, green peas, and asparagus)
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • 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 weight loss; a preoccupation with food, nutrition, or cooking; compulsive exercise; depression or social isolation; visiting the bathroom after eating; and avoiding social situations involving food.

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 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.

Teen Talk

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.

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