‘Lunch for me is a bag of chips, cookies, Pepsi and ice-cream,’ opined a teenager during a recent nutrition survey.

Friends, hobbies, homework leaves little time for your teenager to think of eating a balanced meal. Adolescence is the time for maximum growth – physical and mental, which also means need for the right nutrients to fuel the body. Unless parents do not offer nutritious food choices, children tend to build poor eating habits. Your teenager’s body requires abundant energy to manage this period of dynamic growth and development.

Most children in this age group are either obese or under weight. Binging causes cardio vascular diseases, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer, and unhealthy diets cause loss of weight, anaemia, lack of concentration, physical exhaustion, and brittle bones.

Parents and school educators have poor control on what children eat, outside the home or school. It is not practical to expect your teenager to take lunch to school, when her friends eat at fast-food restaurants. Teach her to make healthy choices when eating at home or restaurants.

As long as your teen gets her nutrition from the essential food group, you can allow her to enjoy her favourite foods.

Eating calcium and iron-rich foods are beneficial for teenagers, since the bones reach a peak mass during this period. Encourage an intake up to 1200mg of calcium per day through milk, dairy products, calcium-fortified juice and leafy greens. Calcium deficient teenagers are prone to osteoporosis, later in life.

Feeding her iron-rich foods will give her the strength to deal fatigue, loss of iron through menstruation and weakness. While girls require about 15, boys need 12 milligrams of iron per day.

Emphasize the need to maintain a healthy weight by controlling the portion size of the food she consumes. Strongly discourage skipping meals – breakfast, lunch or dinner, as she will miss out on the essential nutrients.

Encourage her to snack on fruits, juice, dried fruits or nuts instead of cookies, cold beverages and chips that are high in calories.

Include physical activity of about thirty to sixty minutes, as part of your child’s daily routine. Show her different ways to keep herself active – regular exercise, walking, skipping, jogging, hiking and swimming. Be a model yourself with active and healthy lifestyle.

Your efforts with respect to her nutrition and physical activity will go a long way in shaping a responsible and healthy individual.

Checkout other articles in this series:

Your Child’s Nutrition: A Complete Guide.