What Foods Do Teenagers Need Most During Puberty?

Teens' growing bodies have specific nutritional needs.
Teens' growing bodies have specific nutritional needs. (Image: moodboard/moodboard/Getty Images)

The puberty years are marked by significant growth and maturation, and all that development requires certain nutrients to support the process. If your child is approaching or undergoing puberty, nourish her growing body with well-balanced meals that include a variety of foods.

Delicious Dairy Foods

Teens should eat plenty of dairy foods, which provide two key nutrients during these years of growth. The first is calcium, which helps build bone mass, a critical process during these years. In fact, teens need one-third more calcium than they did before. Between age 13 and 19, boys and girls alike should consume 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. A cup of milk supplies about 300 milligrams. Cheese, yogurt and calcium-fortified foods such as juice are additional sources. Milk also contains a second essential: vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Teens need 600 international units of vitamin D a day, and fortified dairy products are one of the best sources.

Powerful Protein Foods

Protein is essential for the growth of cells, tissues and muscles. Most teens get plenty of protein, especially if they eat meat, according to the HealthyChildren website. Still, examine your own teen's diet to be sure. Teen girls need 46 grams of protein a day, and teen boys require 52 grams. Lean beef, white-meat poultry, fish and seafood are good sources; beans, nuts, seeds, tofu and dairy foods also provide protein.

Iron and Zinc Foods

Iron and zinc are two minerals that promote healthy development during the teen years. Teen girls need more iron than teen boys -- 15 milligrams daily compared with 11 milligrams -- because they lose some of this mineral during menstruation. Lean meat, seafood, eggs, beans, dried fruit and fortified grains provide iron. Zinc is also crucial for growth. Teen boys need 11 milligrams of zinc a day, and teen girls require 9 milligrams. Sources include seafood, lean meat, beans, nuts and cheese.

Other Dietary Essentials

Teens need healthy fats for normal brain growth. Foods with unsaturated fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and fatty fish, should have a place in your growing teen's diet. Fruits and vegetables supply many of the vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, magnesium and folate, that growing teens require. Fresh produce also offers carbohydrates that give your teen's body the energy it needs to grow. Whole grains are an additional source of healthy carbs and should be part of your teen's healthy eating plan.

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