Healthy eating for teens

Healthy eating matters 

Healthy eating is important at every age, and as a teen, it’s important to eat well to have the nutrients and energy to grow, learn and be active.  

Benefits of healthy eating include:  

  • Save money by preparing your own food 

  • Good for the environment by using less single-use plastics 

  • Good for your health and helps you perform in sports, school and hobbies 

  • Reduce your risk of developing chronic disease later on, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  

What does healthy eating look like:  

  • Follow Canada’s Food Guide and make healthy foods part of your daily routine. Have a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and protein foods throughout the day.  

  • Try to include vegetables and fruits at every meal and snack. 

  • Carry a reusable water bottle with you and drink water throughout the day.  

  • Plan meals and snacks with your family.  

  • Prepare your breakfast and pack your lunch the night before to save time in the morning.  

  • Eat meals with your family, without distractions as often as possible. Take this time to talk about your days together. Eating with distractions can make you lose track of how much you have eaten and could lead to overeating.  

  • Be aware of how food marketing, like ads you see on the internet, influence what and how much you eat 

  • Talk to your other family members about healthy eating and encourage them to make healthy decisions with you by making some small changes like drinking water at dinner and trying a new recipe together for example. 

*If you could become pregnant, you should take a multivitamin with 0.4 mg of folic acid each day.  

For more information on healthy eating for teens: 

Fad diets

Fad diets that are restrictive could be harmful to your health. A restrictive diet can have one, or many, of the following features 

  • Very low in calories 

  • Promises fast weight loss 

  • Difficult to fit into your lifestyle 

  • Difficult to stick to in the long term 

  • Requires you to cut out certain foods completely 

If your diet checks off any of the boxes above, and it was not recommended to you by a doctor, you may be following a restrictive diet. Restrictive diets are not healthy at any age because they might not be giving you all the nutrients your body needs. Also, diets that are restrictive are difficult to follow and can lead to yo-yo dieting, where you lose a lot of weight but quickly gain it back when the diet ends. 

Instead of following a fad diet, make healthy changes that you will be able to keep up long-term. For example: 

For more information:  

Healthy lunches and snacks 

Life can be busy. Planning ahead can be the key to healthy eating.  

Lunch Box tips: 

  • If you often skip breakfast, try preparing it the night before (overnight oats are great for this!), or maybe you can eat it when you get to school if you don’t have time at home.  

  • Think about your day ahead and plan to bring the food you need. Usually this will mean bringing 2 snacks and a lunch. You may want to pack an extra snack if you have sports or clubs after school to keep you going until dinner time. 

  • If you find that you reach for the first thing you see when you get home from school, plan ahead and prepare some healthy snacks like cut up fruit with yogurt or veggies with hummus.  

  • Plan school lunches on weekends when you have more time. You can prepare veggie and fruit snacks, make some sandwiches, put yogurt in containers ahead of time and pack your lunch box the night before to avoid the morning scramble. 

Healthy lunch ideas:  

  • Nut butter and banana wrap, cucumber sticks and milk 

  • Cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, carrot sticks and water  

  • Leftover pasta salad (whole wheat noodles, grilled chicken or beans, green peppers, corn) and milk  

Healthy snacks ideas: 

  • Yogurt and fruit 

  • A small muffin with an apple 

  • Vegetables and hummus 

  • Whole grain crackers and cheese 

For recipes and more ideas on how to involve your kids in the kitchen 

Energy drinks 

Energy drinks are beverages that have ingredients like caffeine, vitamins and herbs. They claim to give you more energy and make you feel alert. However, they are not a healthy choice for children or teens.  

Energy drinks contain caffeine, sugar, taurine and a variety of “herbal ingredients”. Some of them claim to be “natural”, but this does not make them healthy choices.  

Warnings on the side of energy drinks often indicate that they are not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women. These warnings are serious. Mixing energy drinks with alcohol can also be very harmful. As a parent, you can be a role model by avoiding energy drinks and keeping them out of the home. 

Better alternatives to energy drinks exist. If you rely on energy drinks to stay alert and awake, consider this instead: 

  • Drink water: dehydration can make you feel sluggish. Drinking water is the best thirst quencher! 

  • Get enough sleep: turn off all electronic devices in the room and get enough quality sleep hours. 

  • Be Active: being activewill give you energy and make you feel great. Plus it will help with sleep!  

  • Eat well: eating wholesome foods will provide your body with energy to function all day long. 

For more information, visit Dietitians of Canda'senergy drinks and their risks. 

Sugar-sweetened drinks 

Regular pop and other sugar-sweetened beverages are high in sugar and lack nutrients such as vitamins, minerals or proteins. Drinking lots of them can lead to dental cavities and is associated with the risks of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Sugar-sweetened beverages can displace or decrease how muchwater and milkyou drinkand can also take the place of nutritious foods in your diet.  

What are some better choices? 

  • Water. Water is great to quench your thirst. Water does not contain any sugar and it contributes to good health. 

  • Milk. Milk contains essential nutrients including, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A and proteinChoose unsweetened milk and enjoy it with meals and snacks.  

Food skills 

Food skills are not just about cooking. It’s also about making a menu, a budget, doing groceries, and everything in between! 

Here are some ways you can start developing your food skills: 

  • Get the conversation going. Talking about food with your parents and let them know that you are interested in cooking and planning meals together. 

  • Develop a meal plan with your family. Get them involved in choosing the menu for lunch and dinner. Make a grocery list together and go grocery shopping together. 

  • Ask your parents if you can take the lead of preparing and cooking a dinner. Choose a theme night like Mexican, Italian or Thai and put on some fun music 

  • If you are new to cooking, start by making simple dishes like scrambled eggs, wraps and salads. There are so many videos on the internet where you can learn how to prepare food, but they may not all be healthy recipes. You can adapt any recipe to align more with Canada’s Food Guide by having lots of colourful vegetables and fruits with meals and snacks and swapping refined grain products with whole grains and choosing lean proteins most often.  

For more information, visit Dietitians of Canada's Top 10 Easy Ways to Get Teens Cooking. 

Be aware of food marketing 

Food marketing is all around us. Most foods advertised to children and youth are highly processed, and are high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fats. This poses important health risks at a time when they are growing and developing lifelong dietary habits. 

Children and youth are vulnerable to food marketing because their developmental age makes them susceptible, and they are highly targeted. They are easy-to-reach with kid appealing ads placed everywhere they spend time during the day (schools, sports arenas, stores, etc.). 

For more information on Marketing to kids 

  • How marketing of food and drinks targets children and youth all day long 

  • How marketing affects children  

  • What can you do?  

  • Resources 

Want to speak with a Registered Dietitian? 

Call Health Connect Ontario and ask to speak with a Registered Dietitian. Available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm by calling 811 (TTY: 1-866-797-0007) or start a chat  

Do you have more questions about parenting? 

  • Speak with a Public Health Nurse. Call the Ottawa Public Health Info Centre at 613-PARENTS [613-727-3687]  (TTY: 613-580-9656) or email Ottawa Public Health at ParentinginOttawa@ottawa.ca 

  • Connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page 

  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa

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