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Parents can help teens learn to make healthy food choices.

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 teen nutrition at 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.

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