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Young People

Young People covers a whole range of people from age 13-18, who are growing at different rates and times, involved in various levels of activity and who are of different heights and weights. This affects the types and amounts of nutrients you will need for a healthy body. Your lifestyle might be changing as well – a different school, different family circumstances, leaving home, starting work or tertiary education, which can affect the foods you eat. For more in-depth knowledge on the recommended number of servings visit Health Ed’s Healthy Eating for Young People’s guide.

Important nutrients for teenagers

Calcium

Your body is building its skeleton while you’re a teenager. To make it as strong as possible, you need to eat foods rich in calcium.

  • Choose dairy products, including low-fat milk, yoghurt, cheese, eating 2-3 serves every day.
  • If you don’t eat dairy foods, other good sources of calcium are calcium-fortified soy milk, canned fish (eg. salmon or sardines), certain nuts (eg. almonds, hazelnuts), dried beans & peas (eg. chickpeas, kidney beans), lentils and wholegrain bread & cereals (eg wholegrain bread, brown rice, porridge).
  • If you drink soft drinks, try replacing one or two each day with water or milk (which has calcium and other valuable nutrients).
  • Try smoothies (made in a blender with trim milk, yoghurt and fruit) for breakfast or a snack – they tick the boxes for calcium, fruit, and taste.

Iron

Teenage girls in particular need to include iron-rich foods in their diet as they need more iron from food to replace what’s lost during their periods. If not, low levels of iron in the blood can leave you looking pale and feeling tired and lethargic.

  • Lean meat, chicken, fish and seafood contain haem iron, which is absorbed best by the body.
  • Eggs, nuts, seeds, dried beans (e.g., baked beans, chickpeas) and lentils also contain iron. Eating two serves from this food group every day, plus choosing wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals, will help you get enough iron.
  • Eat foods with vitamin C with your meals, particularly with plant-based sources of iron, to help increase the absorption of iron.

Vegetarian teenagers

Thinking of becoming a vegetarian, or you have not been eating meat for a while?

Variety is the key to a healthy vegetarian diet. Eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables, high fibre grain foods, dairy or calcium-enriched soy foods and eggs, dried beans, lentils, nuts and seeds each day.
The most important nutrients to be aware of with a vegetarian diet are calciumiron and vitamin B12. Eat foods containing vitamin C (kiwifruit, capsicum, orange juice) with your meals so your body can best absorb the iron in foods. If you are eating eggs and dairy products, you will most likely be meeting your calcium and vitamin B12 needs. Vegans need to consider eating foods such as cereals, soy or other plant-based milks to that have been fortified with B12 (that is, B12 has been added to the food). You should talk to a doctor or dietitian about vitamin B12 supplements. For more information read our vegetarian webpage.

Plenty of fluids every day

Drink water throughout the day to quench your thirst and make it easier to concentrate on your studies or while enjoying activities. Squeeze a dash of lemon juice or add a splash of fruit juice to water for a bit of extra flavour.
Soft drinks and energy drinks are full of sugar (and kilojoules/calories) and are best kept for special occasions, not every day, and choose the small drink container size.

Being active and playing sport

Physical activity helps the heart, lungs and muscles work the best they can. You need to do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day. That means anything from a brisk walk to where you ‘huff and puff’ – running, swimming, netball, soccer. Be active in as many ways as possible – sport, dancing, playing, running, cycling, whatever you enjoy – and spend less than two hours a day in front of the television, computer or playing game consoles. You could get involved in a sports team and try walking or biking when heading to and from the shops, school or work.

Meal ideas for teenagers

Try to have 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit every day. You can easily fit them into every meal or have as a snack. Here are some meal ideas which contain all the important nutrients, and much more.

Breakfast

  • Add your favourite fresh, canned or dried fruit to your breakfast cereal, and top with yoghurt
  • If you’re running late, a fruit smoothie and a piece of toast is a quick option. To make a smoothie, simply blend together a glass of milk, 1-2 tablespoons of yoghurt and a handful of fruit
  • Cooked breakfasts are a great way to start the day if you have the time. Poached or scrambled eggs, mushrooms and tomato and a couple of pieces of wholegrain toast will keep you buzzing until lunchtime

Lunch

  • Sandwiches, wraps or rolls are all good energy-giving options for the lunchbox. Choose a calcium-rich filling such as cheese or sardines one day and iron-rich cold meat the next. And always remember a vegetable too – tomato, cucumber, beetroot – whichever you most enjoy.
  • Fruit makes a great “on the run” snack, so always have some in your school bag or at work.

Evening meal

  • Aim for your evening meal to contain a good balance of nutrients. Potatoes, pasta and rice will give you more energy. Lean meat, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs or beans and lentils provide protein and iron. You can combine these, for example, a meat and bean casserole makes a great winter warmer. Add vegetables or salad too to half of your dinner plate.

Nutritious snacks

  • As you are growing, you may also need snacks for an energy boost or to combat hunger between meals. Choose ones which are going to give you what you need.
  • Fruits, a handful of nuts, a pottle of yoghurt, a couple of slices of cheese, an extra sandwich are all good options.
  • After school or work: a bowl of wholegrain cereal with low-fat milk, toast with peanut butter or a fruit smoothie can make great snacks.
  • Very processed foods like fizzy drinks, chocolate, chips provide us with a lot of energy but not a lot of other nutrients. Choose the smaller or ‘snack’-sized options and make the most of it, savouring the taste!

Takeaways suggestions

  • Many takeaway foods, such as pies, chips, pastries and pizzas, are high in fat & salt. Look out for healthier options, such as sushi, salads or sandwiches. You can make takeaways healthier by having them without extra cheese, mayonnaise or aioli. Watch your portion sizes as takeaway portions can be twice what you’d serve yourself at home – choose small or regular portions rather than a large.

Learn to cook tips

‘DIY’ in the kitchen by learning to cook. This will help you to eat better, save money, and will even make you more popular with your family or flatmates!
Start with packing your own lunch each day, then move on to cooking dinner. Check out these websites for some easy recipe ideas:

 

If you want to talk to someone about what you are eating – speak to a school or a  dietitian or registered nutritionist or someone who can suggest or refer you to one e.g., a counsellor or nurse, your doctor.

Last modified: April 8, 2022