Up to 33 percent of children and teenagers in the United States are overweight, and the number with weight-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure is on the rise, reports the American Heart Association. Meals low in fat, sodium and refined sugar is key in helping teenagers avoid obesity and medical problems. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for dinner to be a healthy meal, it should contain five items: vegetables, fruits, lean protein, grains and a calcium-rich food.
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Give Favorite Foods a Twist
Teenagers don't have to give up foods such as pizza, burgers and tacos -- give their favorites a nutritious boost by using whole grains instead of refined options, adding plenty of produce and lessening the fat. Offer your teen a dinner of pizza prepared with a whole-grain crust and topped with his favorite vegetables, a low-sodium tomato sauce and reduced-fat cheese. Use grilled chicken breast or fish as a filling for whole-grain tortillas instead of beef or pork and have plenty of chopped or shredded items on hand as toppings, including thinly sliced cabbage, onions, avocados, tomatoes and fresh salsa. Serve extra lean ground beef, ground turkey or veggie burgers on whole-grain buns.
Bring on the Seafood
The American Heart Association advises that everyone -- including teenagers -- should have 3.5 ounces of fish or shellfish at least twice a week. Choices such as salmon, pollock, cod, flounder, shrimp, scallops and clams are low in contaminants such as mercury while being a rich source of vitamins, minerals and the omega-3 fatty acids that may help lower blood cholesterol. A healthy seafood dinner for a teenager might include baked salmon paired with whole-grain pasta, steamed broccoli and a spinach salad or grilled shrimp and vegetable skewers served on top of brown rice.
Even if your teenager isn't a vegetarian or a vegan, it's a good idea to get her in the habit of eating meatless dinners regularly. A teen who eats more plant-based proteins like beans, nuts, seeds, soy and quinoa than animal sources of protein -- particularly red and processed meats -- may have a decreased risk of cancer and heart disease as an adult, according to a 2012 study from "JAMA Internal Medicine." For meat-free dinners high in fiber and protein but low in fat, try a vegetable-bean soup paired with whole-grain bread or a tofu stir-fry.
Start a DIY Salad Bar
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2011 that less than 10 percent of American high school students eat three to four servings of vegetables each day. One way to help your teenager increase his intake is with a dinner featuring a salad he assembles himself. Provide several types of greens -- romaine, red or green leaf lettuce, spinach or escarole, for example -- along with healthy toppings like diced raw or steamed vegetables, slices of fresh fruit, roasted unsalted nuts, sunflower seeds, cooked beans or whole-grain pasta shapes, cubes of tofu or cooked poultry and shredded reduced-fat cheese. Include some crusty whole-wheat rolls and a low-fat vinaigrette.