Your Teen's Growth Spurt: How to Fuel It Right

family meal

Remember the baby years, when you knew a growth spurt was coming because all your children seemed to do was sleep and eat? Well, get ready, because your young teen is preparing for the biggest growth spurt since those early days, and you’ll see those changes in sleeping and eating patterns again. This time around it can be much more challenging to be sure your teenager is getting the proper nutrition.

Applying the basics of a healthy lifestyle to your teens’ busy schedules is a complicated but achievable goal. The good news is that getting the family active and eating right will benefit everyone, including you.

Be conscious about the kinds of food you and your teens are consuming. Not all calories are created equal. It’s important that teens get the recommended servings from all the food groups — grains, vegetables, fruit, milk, meat and beans, and oils — as well as a minimum of 30 minutes of activity per day.

With the extreme growth and development teens undergo, there are a few nutritional items that need special attention:

  • Calcium – As those bones get longer, you want to be sure they are getting stronger. Teens need plenty of calcium now to ensure they have the optimal bone mass later to avoid osteoporosis.
  • Iron – The need for iron increases between ages 11 and 18. In boys, extra iron helps to fuel their rapidly expanding body mass. For girls, it is important to meet daily iron requirements to counteract blood loss from monthly menstrual cycles.
  • Whole grains– At least half of teens’ grains should be whole grains. Look for breads and crackers where the first ingredient has “whole” in front of the grain (like “whole wheat flour”). “Enriched” may sound good, but it means important fiber and nutrients have been removed. Also try switching from white to brown grain products wherever  possible. You’ll add nutrients, and they’ll feel fuller while getting some much-needed fiber.

How much teens eat is just as important as what they eat. Keep mealtimes unhurried to ensure their brains have a chance to catch up with their stomachs and recognize they are full. Advise teens against skipping meals, which can backfire and result in overeating later and loss of energy and nutrition. Be sure to teach them proper portion sizes and how to read food labels. A serving size of potato chips, for example, is 1 ounce — about 10 chips. Most pop, juice, flavored waters, and sports drinks are sold in 20-ounce bottles — that’s 2.5 servings.

Portion confusion is a big part of America’s obesity epidemic.

Tips for Parents

  • Stock the house with plenty of healthy options for meals and snacks. Make sure fruits and vegetables are washed, cut, and ready to go to make them easy and accessible options.
  • Encourage teens to pack their lunches with healthy choices rather than buying sugary, high-calorie, and fat-laden snacks.
  • Plan ahead for days packed with activities—throw a few healthy, portable snacks in their bags when you know they are going to be on the run to avoid fast food and vending machine munching.
  • Limit the hours teens spend in front of a screen and encourage some type of physical activity daily.
  • Eat meals at home, together as a family, as often as possible. Not only will you be able to manage portion sizes and ingredients, you’ll reap the added benefits of connecting with your kids after a busy day.
  • Teach your teens how to make healthy choices at fast food restaurants. Encourage them to opt for grilled items rather than fried, skip the supersized meals, go for salads, and watch what they drink.
  • Check out the USDA's Choose My Plate for personalized eating plans and interactive tools.

Nicole Lidyard, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Pediatric Nutrition Services.

Related Links

UH Rainbow pediatric practices are offering extended office hours in May to accommodate and prioritize teen well visits as part of Teen Health Month. Call for an appointment today.

UH Rainbow Babies & Children's experts provide two quick tips for keeping teens healthy. Watch the video.

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