Healthy Diet for a Teenage Boy

Close-up of a teenage boy (15-17) biting into a whole pizza
Teens typically need more calories than adults. (Image: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Teens are in a stage of rapid growth and development, which means they can use significantly more calories and nutrients than adults or younger children. Although a healthy, balanced meal for a teen boy looks a lot like a healthy meal for any typical adult, teens do have some special nutritional needs that you can address by providing specific, nutrient-rich foods.

Calorie Needs

Average teen boys between the ages of 14 and 18 need between 2,200 and 3,200 calories daily, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If your teen regularly plays sports or is very active, however, he may need up to 3,500 or even 4,000 calories daily. About 45 percent to 65 percent of those calories should come from carbs, 25 percent to 35 percent from fats and 10 percent to 30 percent from protein.

Protein Pros

Protein helps a teen boy increase the amount of lean body mass he has, which typically doubles between the ages of 10 and 17. Most boys, however, don’t need to worry about getting enough protein. According to registered dietitian Mary Story, American teens have diets rich in protein and usually get twice the amount they need every day. What's most important is to choose healthy sources, including lean meats, fish, cheese, eggs, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds.

Healthy Carbs

Carbs are a teen’s main source of energy -- which is why it’s so important to choose them wisely. Carb-rich doughnuts, sodas and pizzas might be tempting, but their simple carbs, sugar and fat don’t provide high-quality nutrition or satisfy hunger as effectively as complex carbs or simple carbs paired with fiber. Teens should look to get most of their carbs from fresh fruits and veggies as well as whole grains like whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, oats and brown rice.

Fitting in Fats

Fatty foods like burgers and fries are staples of many teens’ diets, but focusing on saturated fats over unsaturated fats instills habits that could raise the risks of obesity and heart problems over time. Better fat sources include olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty, coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna or trout.

Other Nutrients

Two nutrients of particular importance for teen boys are calcium and iron. Teens need about 1,300 milligrams of calcium every day, most of which can be obtained from 3 cups of milk, yogurt or cottage cheese. Iron helps teens grow and increase their lean muscle mass; according to the Institute of Medicine, teen boys need about 8 milligrams daily. You can get that amount or more in 1 cup of fortified cereal, 1 1/2 cups of cooked lentils, 8 ounces of red meat or 4 cups of cooked leafy greens.

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