Adolescence is a time when kids are developing into adults. Their body is growing, and they need the nutritional energy to successfully do that.

What is the most important nutrient for adolescents?

Enough!

Yes, there are specific nutrients that developing adolescents need more of, but honestly, if they’re not getting enough energy, that’s a bigger issue than if they’re low in a particular mineral. This life stage is a period of lots of growth, and their energy needs are quite high.

At the same time, adolescents may be limiting their food intake for many reasons:

  • It’s a time for more independence in their eating and food prep, and they may not have the skills, inclination, or money for nutritionally rich foods
  • Beliefs and attitudes are solidified, and they may be moving away from parent’s food beliefs (cultural, religious, ethical, etc.)
  • Developmentally moving away from parents and towards peer group. Peer pressure is big, and adolescents want to eat what and how their friends eat
  • Adolescents are experiencing a lot of changes in their body, both physically and emotionally. They may feel out of control of their life and controlling their food can help them feel more powerful. Dieting (or restricting particular food) is a popular way of doing this.
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While you may be inclined to go full-on controlling exactly what your adolescent eats; because you want them to be healthy and develop well; don’t do that! While your kids do still need you for educating and supporting them to eat well, they also need to move towards independence, and taking over too much control can be grounds for unneeded stress and conflict.

So… How can you support your adolescent’s growth while supporting their independence?

  1. Teach them how to make nutritionally balanced meals and snacks with a vegetable, protein, starch and fat. Bring them grocery shopping and teach them how to make a grocery list and follow a budget. Let them into the kitchen and learn to follow a recipe. These are crucial skills, but they also take time to learn. So give them support as they slowly learn.
  2. Eat together. Family meals have been found to improve kids’ self esteem and school performance, and lower the chances of adolescents trying drugs, getting pregnant, developing depression and eating disorders. Keep meals relaxed and don’t force kids to eat food, but rather focus on spending enjoyable time together.
  3. Respect your adolescent’s changing tastes. Encourage them to explore and develop new tastes and allow them to contribute new food to family meals. A past client had become vegetarian in high school and was looking for support to ensure she was meeting her needs and learn how to make balanced meals and snacks in preparation for when she would be going to college. Though the rest of her family was not vegetarian, her mom made sure to stock all the groceries and ingredients she needed to appropriately nourish herself.
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Parents play an important role in helping their kids eat well and nourish themselves. Though it looks slightly different than with younger children, it’s no less important for your adolescents, as they gain the confidence to move into adulthood.