Nourishing adolescent development may feel daunting. Adolescence is a time when kids are developing into adults. Their body is growing, and they need the nutritional energy to successfully do that. And with so much nutrition information it can be confusing knowing what nutrients are the most important to focus on.

What is the most important nutrient for adolescents?

When nourishing adolescent development, the answer may surprise you.

It is…


Yes, there are specific nutrients that developing adolescents need more of, but honestly, if they’re not getting enough overall 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.

Barriers to adequate nourishment

Despite this being an important time for increased nutritional intake, adolescents may be limiting their food intake for many reasons:

Lacking skills

This is a time for more independence in your adolescent’s eating and food preparation. They may not have the skills, inclination, or money for making and eating nutritionally rich foods.

Cultivating unique identity

Adolescence is time to experiment with new beliefs and attitudes. Your teen may be moving away from your eating habits and food beliefs (cultural, religious, ethical, etc.) and not be sure what or how to eat. 

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is big, (and developmentally appropriate) and adolescents want to eat what and how their friends eat. That may not always be the most nourishing choice. 

Feeling powerless

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.

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.


How can you nourish your adolescent’s development while supporting their independence?


Teach them how to make nutritionally balanced meals and snacks with a vegetable, protein, starch and fat. (Read this post for building nourishing snacks.) 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.

Eat together

Family meals have been found to improve kids’ self esteem and school performance. The also 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. Read this post for 12 tips for enjoyable family meals.

Encourage exploration

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.

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.