Key Components of a Healthy Diet for Children and Teens

nutrition-for-teens-and-childrenAdolescents need a lot of calories to support the rapid growth that occurs during this time and to fuel their busy lives. The number of calories that your teen needs vary depending on age, sex, and activity level. Most adolescent girls need somewhere around 2,200 calories per day, while most adolescent boys need 2,500-3,000 calories per day.

Between schoolwork, sports, and other activities, teens are often so busy they don’t have time to eat balanced meals that provide the calories and nutrients they need. Still, it is also easy to eat too many calories, especially when poor food choices are made. Over time, this can lead to excess weight and obesity.

Make sure your teenage athlete gets the number of calories they need by:

  1. Providing a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all the different food groups
  2. Limiting foods that are high in added sugar or fat, but provide little else, such as candy bars, chips, cakes, cookies, donuts, and regular soda
  3. Serving reasonable portion sizes and then letting your teen have more if they are still hungry


Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your player. About 45%-65% of their calories should come from carbohydrates. Encourage your teen to choose healthy carbohydrate-rich foods, such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and milk. Limit foods that are high in refined flour or added sugar, such as white bread, non-whole-grain crackers, cookies, juice, and soda.


Teens need protein for growth and repair, as well as to build muscle. About 15%-25% of a teen’s calories should come from protein. Good sources of protein include poultry, lean meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, soy, legumes, and low-fat and nonfat dairy products.


Adolescents need between 25%-35% of their calories as fat. Dietary fat provides essential fatty acids that are necessary for proper growth. It also helps transport fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and maintain healthy skin. Your teen’s fat intake should come mostly from healthy fats, such as those found in vegetable oils (canola and olive oil), nuts, avocados, olives, and fatty fish (salmon, sardines, and tuna).

Vitamins & Minerals

Research shows that many adolescents, particularly girls, do not get all the vitamins and minerals they need. While all vitamins and minerals are important, adolescents tend to often fall short on:


  • essential for building strong bones and teeth;
  • milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified cereal, and canned salmon are also good sources


  • Important for proper growth during adolescence
  • Found in orange juice, fortified breakfast cereals, bread, milk, dried beans, and lentils


  • Necessary for transporting red blood cells; not getting enough from the diet can result in iron-deficiency anemia
  • Meat, chicken, fish, and fortified breakfast cereal


  • Helps promote proper growth and sexual maturation during adolescence
  • Chicken, meat, shellfish, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereal

Vitamin A

  • Necessary for proper vision, growth, and immune system functioning
  • Carrots, fortified breakfast cereal, milk, and cheese

Vitamin D

  • Necessary for the body to use the calcium that is consumed
  • Fortified milk, salmon, and egg yolks—sunshine allows your body to make vitamin D, but be aware of the dangers of getting too much sun

Vitamin E

  • Helps protect the body from damage
  • Nuts, seeds, whole grains, spinach, and fortified breakfast cereal


  • Helps regulate the heartbeat, build strong bones, and keep blood pressure within a normal range
  • Whole grains, green vegetables, and legumes


Most adolescents do not eat enough fiber. Diets high in fiber tend to be lower in total calories, fat, and cholesterol than diets that are low in fiber. What’s more, research shows that high fiber intake may help prevent heart disease and certain kinds of cancer. Fiber can also help prevent constipation and increase fullness following a meal. To be sure your teen is getting enough fiber, teach them to choose whole grains over refined grains, and encourage them to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Physical Activity

While it may not be a nutrient, physical activity is a key component of any healthy diet. Encourage your teen athletes to be physically active every day. If necessary, suggest limits on the amount of time spent watching TV or using the computer. All physical activity counts whether it is being involved with school sports, taking dance lessons, shooting hoops in the driveway, or walking to school. There are countless ways to get moving, even out of sport environments.

What’s Next?

The Youth Performance Coach Certification is designed for new and advanced coaches and trainers who want to specialize in the areas of youth athletics, youth mentorship and leadership for the next generation.

If you are new to youth coaching, training and mentoring, this is a great launching point for your career. You will gain valuable insight that will give you the skills needed to make a positive change in the lives of youth.

If you want to help clients with food, diet, weight management and improving the results of their fitness routines, the Fitness Nutrition Coach course is for you. You will learn about optimal nutrition, including proven techniques for increasing energy, optimal health and decreased dependence on medications. Instantly increase your job and career opportunities with this popular professional credential.

NESTA coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.

That’s it for now.

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