Teenagers

Want to eat healthily to help you look and feel great? Well the good news is that it’s not as tricky as you might think! Healthy eating is really just down to a few basic rules. 

Pack in the fruit

Eating five portions of fruit and veg every day may sound like a lot at first - but it can be done!  Just try to get into the habit of including some fruit or veg at every meal. And remember: all types of fruit and vegetables count, whether they’re tinned, dried, fresh or frozen. Here are some ideas to help you get your 5-a-day…

A healthy teenager with an appleAt breakfast

  • Have a glass of unsweetened fruit juice
  • Slice some fresh fruit or sprinkle some dried fruit over your cereal
  • Or start the day with a chopped banana and yoghurt smoothie!

At lunchtime

  • Stick some salad veggies in your sandwiches
  • If you’re going for a cooked lunch, have a small side salad too
  • Include a piece of fruit or some raw veggie sticks in your lunchbox.

At dinner

  • Have plenty of vegetables - why not put two kinds on your plate?
  • Try some fresh or tinned fruit in its own juice topped with natural yoghurt as a healthy, delicious desert.

As a snack

  • Munch on a fresh piece of washed fruit like an apple, peach or pear
  • Or have two smaller fruits, like plums or satsumas
  • Have a handful of berries – whatever’s in season
  • Bananas are brill – they even come in their own handy packaging! Pop one into your schoolbag to keep you going between classes
  • Cut up some raw carrot, pepper or celery sticks to munch on (delicious dipped in yoghurt or hummus)

Look after your bones

How strong and dense your bones become is decided while you’re in your teens.

Calcium and vitamin D are the nutrients that help your bones to develop, so it’s really important to pack these goodies in during your teenage years. There are many good sources of calcium to choose from with milk and dairy foods being the best sources, but sardines, dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans and nuts are good sources too.   

Here are some tips for getting more dairy into your diet:

  • Have a milk or yogurt with cereal for breakfast
  • Include a slice of cheese in your sandwiches
  • Have a yogurt with your lunch
  • Drink a glass of milk with dinner
  • Have a milk-based dessert, e.g. rice pudding or custard made with low fat milk or a yogurt dessert after your dinner

Other ways to keep your bones strong are:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Take regular exercise like swimming or walking

Did you know? 

Skimmed and semi-skimmed milk, cheese and yoghurts contain just as much protein, vitamins, calcium and other minerals as the full-fat versions – they’re just lower in fat!

Many teenagers think milk is fattening but in fact it is not a high fat food. If you want to reduce that fat in your diet then low fat versions of milk are available.

Drink plenty of water 

We all need between six and eight glasses of water or other fluids each day to keep us alert and properly hydrated. When you’re dehydrated you can feel tired or sluggish - not good when you’re expected to concentrate in class for hours at a time! Tea and coffee can count as your fluids too, but make sure you also drink things that don’t have any caffeine. Water and milk are the best drinks choices.

Did you know?

If you feel thirsty, then you’re already a little bit dehydrated. Stay ahead of the game - fill up a bottle of water to take to school with you each day. Remember to drink extra fluids before and after sports. Find out more in our drinks section.

Eat plenty of iron

Your body needs iron to make red blood cells. Red blood cells are needed to bring oxygen all around your body - making iron one of the most important minerals in our diet. Lean red meat and liver are the best sources of iron. Other good sources are white meat, fish, eggs, green vegetables, nuts, pulses (like peas, beans or lentils) and fortified breads and breakfast cereals (check the labels).

When your body has enough iron, you should feel energetic and well. But people who are low in iron can start to feel tired, pale and short of breath.

Try to have some iron-rich foods every day. Here are some ideas for tasty meals that are also rich in iron:

At breakfast time

  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal (check the label) with semi-skimmed milk
  • Scrambled eggs, baked beans and grilled tomato with wholegrain toast
  • Glass of orange or grapefruit juice with either of the above

At lunchtime

  • Wholegrain bread with tomatoes, lettuce and lean beef
  • Caesar salad with grilled chicken strips
  • Scrambled eggs with red pepper and ham chunks

At dinner time

  • Beef or vegetable stir-fry
  • Grilled home-made burger in a bun with side salad
  • Sardines or baked beans on wholegrain toast
  • Bean salad (kidney beans, chopped tomato, garlic and chopped boiled egg with a drizzle of olive oil)

As a snack

  • Handful of dried fruit
  • Handful of nuts or seeds
  • Small portion of bean salad

Did you know?

Girls – you need even more iron than boys! This is because of your monthly period and because you’re still growing. So be sure to pack in those iron-rich foods every day. C

Tip 1: Having some vitamin C with your meal helps your body to absorb any iron that’s in it.  So try to include some fresh fruit, salad vegetables (like tomatoes) or unsweetened fruit juice with your meals

Tip 2: Tea and coffee contain things called polyphenols that make it harder for our bodies to absorb iron. You don’t need to cut them out completely, but try not to have them within 30 minutes of eating your meals.

Other dietary needs

Vegetarian diets

Lots of young people think about becoming a vegetarian at some point for all sorts of reasons.  A vegetarian diet can be very healthy, but you need to be in-the-know before you attempt it. 

If you’re going to take animal products out of your diet, then you need to make sure you’re not losing out on vital nutrients like protein and iron. This may mean finding meat alternatives, including things you might not normally eat like tofu, lentils or Quorn.

The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is to understand which foods give you which benefits, and then plan your plan your meals in advance. As any vegetarian will tell you, this takes time, dedication and careful meal planning!

This table will give you an idea of the different nutrients to watch out for in your diet and the foods you will get them from. Most nutrients we need can come from plant foods as well as animal foods - except for vitamin B12.

Nutrient Animal sources Plant sources

Protein

Lean meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Milk, Cheese, Yoghurt

Beans (all kinds), Lentils, Chickpeas, Nuts, Seeds, Bread

Calcium

Milk, Cheese, Yoghurt, Tinned sardines and salmon (when you eat the bones)

Green leafy vegetables like broccoli, Bread, Nuts, Dried fruit

Iron

Red meat, Liver, Chicken, Fish, Eggs

Some breakfast cereals (check the label), Bread, Pulses, Green vegetables, Dried fruits*, Nuts, Dark chocolate (small amounts)

Vitamin A

Liver, Cheese, Butter, Full-fat milk

Yellow/orange fruit and vegetables (like carrots, apricots, mangoes), Sweet potato, Fortified margarines and spreads

Vitamin B12

Liver, Meat, Poultry, Fish, Milk and milk products, Eggs

Some breads and cereals (check the labels), Yeast extracts

*Dried fruits are high in sugar. Consume with meals to protect your teeth.

Did you know? 

Around a quarter of the world’s population has a mainly vegetarian diet

Top tip: If you drink soya milk, read the labels and go for a brand that is fortified with calcium

Food allergies

Dealing with a food allergy as a teenager or young adult can be especially difficult as this is a time when you are trying to learn to take responsibility for your food allergy, and trying to lead as normal a life as possible. The UK Anaphylaxis Campaign also has some sound advice for young adults. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network in the US have a website dedicated to the management of food allergies from a teenage perspective.