PREGNANCY & CHILDHOOD

The Nutrients Teen Girls Need

The Nutrients Teen Girls Need

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Learn what nutrition your teen needs for a healthy future and how snacks can help

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OCT. 12, 2021    4 MINUTE READ
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Between school, sports and maybe a part-time job, the teenage years may be some of the best — and busiest — times in a girl's life.

Those same years may be some of the busiest inside her body, too. While she grows, her body is working hard to add muscle, increase the number of red blood cells and finish building the bones she'll use for the rest of her life. 

Those same years may be some of the busiest inside her body, too. While she grows, her body is working hard to add muscle, increase the number of red blood cells and finish building the bones she'll use for the rest of her life.

Key Nutrients in Diets for Teenage Girls

As teenagers develop, three critical parts of their bodies are in flux: their bones, their blood, and their muscles. To ensure these areas grow properly, girls need the right nutrients.

  • For bone development: Most people think of calcium when they think of bone development, but vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin K and protein are also necessary for bone growth. Consuming these nutrients can help lower a teen's risk for bone fracture now and reduce their chances of developing osteoporosis in the future. Although bones grow rapidly throughout the teen years, girls may continue to add bone mass until they reach their 30s.
  • For blood: Iron and B vitamins such as B-12 and folate are required for the development of healthy red blood cells. The onset of menstruation means that teen girls need 15 milligrams of iron every day (as opposed to 11 milligrams for non-menstruating teens). But unfortunately, up to 16% of U.S. teen girls are deficient in iron. Without adequate iron, teen girls are unable to produce the red blood cells they need to carry oxygen throughout the body. This can cause fatigue, dizziness, and poor sports performance if one becomes anemic due to low iron stores.
  • For growth and muscle development: Along with previously mentioned nutrients, protein is needed to build muscle. Too much reliance on unhealthy snack foods - foods with less nutrition per calorie -, like chips, coffee drinks, candy and ice cream can result in a diet that lacks the protein a growing teen girl need.

Snacks to Boost Teen Nutrition

Teens rely on snacks for about 25 percent of their daily calories. People often think of junk foods as snacks, but a snack can be anything eaten outside of a scheduled meal. For many teens, snacks are excellent opportunities to add a nutritional boost to their diets.

Consider these healthy snack ideas to improve your teen's nutrition:

1. Greek yogurt smoothie
Greek yogurt is high in protein and calcium, nutrients key to bone and muscle support. To make a smoothie, combine a 6- to 8-ounce carton of Greek yogurt with a banana in a blender (a frozen banana works well, but freezing is optional) or any other fresh fruit you desire. Add enough milk to thin out the smoothie and 1 teaspoon of vanilla flavoring. Blend until smooth and enjoy a nutritious treat!

2. Trail mix
This is an excellent choice for girls who can't seem to get enough calories, as trail mix can be high in iron and protein, thanks to the nuts and dried fruit. To make your own, use your teen's favorite dried fruit (raisins, pineapple, mango, cranberries, etc.) and add an equal number of peanuts or tree nuts. You can also add other crunchy options like popcorn or pumpkin seeds, or even a small number of chocolate chips if desired.

3. Peanut butter balls
These peanut butter balls provide a protein boost that includes:

  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Optional: Small sprinkle of semisweet chocolate chips, shredded coconut (unsweetened) or chia seeds

Combine all ingredients and roll into 1- to 2-inch balls. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

4. No-bake granola bars
These no-bake granola bars, are also high in muscle-building protein:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 ¼ cups chunky natural peanut butter
  • 1 cup ground flaxseed
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds

Combine all the ingredients, then press the mixture into a 9 x 11 baking dish lined with parchment paper. Place it in the freezer for one hour, then cut the mixture into bars. Store them in the refrigerator.

On-the-go snacks
Short on time? These healthy snacks can be prepared quickly and provide a lot of nutrition:

  • Hummus: Chickpeas provide a great source of plant-based protein, and hummus not only has fiber, B vitamins and minerals like iron and phosphorus, it’s also super portable. It makes a great dip for your favorite vegetables, and it's available in single-sized servings for girls on the go.
  • Frozen whole-grain waffles: You can toast a frozen waffle and add a layer of peanut butter for a filling, nutritious snack in a hurry. This provides a balance of protein and carbohydrates for energy.

Healthy snacking doesn't mean bland or boring snacking. It means eating to make sure every bite is as full of nutrients as it is full of flavor. A teen's diet doesn't have to be perfect, but your teen's food choices today will affect her health for a lifetime, and there's no better time to help your daughter develop a lifelong habit of healthy snacking than during her teenage years.

Protein Snacks for Kids

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If a child is growing slowly or is small for their age, nutritious meals are often a good place to start, but they might not be enough. Some children simply don't have the appetite or have eating habits that prevent them from getting all the nutrition they need at mealtimes. Healthy snacks for kids can help provide nutrients that support optimal growth, especially when it comes to protein. 

Protein for Child Development | Abbott Nutrition

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Protein is a macronutrient that is vital for child growth and development, yet research shows that one in seven school-aged children do not meet their daily protein intake goals.1

If a child is growing slowly or is small for their age they may not be getting all the protein and nutrients needed for healthy growth. The good news is that with a few changes you can help your child get on track. 

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