Skip to main content

En Español 

Healthy Diet for Adolescents 12 to 18 Years of Age


What is a healthy diet for adolescents? A healthy meal plan for adolescents provides enough calories and nutrients for growth and good health. This is important because children normally have a growth spurt during their adolescent years (12 to 18 years old). A healthy meal plan can also help prevent health problems. These include anemia (low levels of iron in his blood), eating disorders, diabetes, and obesity.

What are some guidelines for a healthy meal plan?

  • Teach your child about a healthy meal plan by setting a good example. Your child still learns from your eating habits. Buy healthy foods for your family. Encourage your child to eat regular meals and snacks even if he is busy. Eat healthy meals together as a family as often as possible. You may also need to help your child plan his meals and snacks. You could also suggest that he eat at restaurants that have healthy food choices. Praise your child's good food choices whenever you can.

  • Talk with your child about the reasons why a healthy meal plan is important. Adolescents may want to follow a fad diet if they see their friends or famous people following such a diet. A fad diet may not have all the nutrients your child needs to grow and stay healthy. Dieting may also lead to eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. Anorexia is refusal to eat. Bulimia is binge eating followed by vomiting, using laxative medicine, not eating at all, or heavy exercise.

Which foods should my child limit? Encourage your child to limit fast food and convenience foods. These foods are high in fat and sugar. Some examples are hamburgers, french fries, pizza, potato chips, candy, and soda. These high-fat, high-sugar foods can replace healthy foods if your child eats or drinks them too often. For example, adolescents may drink a lot of soda and not drink any milk. Your child may not get enough calcium if he does not drink milk or eat other dairy foods. High-fat, high-sugar foods may also cause your child to eat too many calories and become overweight.

Which foods should my child eat? The number of servings your child needs from each food group depends on his age and activity level. Boys need more calories than girls do. Ask your dietitian how many servings your child needs.

  • Fruits and vegetables: Half of your child's plate should contain fruits and vegetables.
    Plate Model

    • Fruits: Offer fresh, canned, or dried fruit instead of fruit juice as often as possible.

      • 1 cup of fruit juice

      • 1 cup of sliced, diced, cooked, or canned fruit

      • 1 large peach, orange, or banana

      • ½ cup of dried fruit

    • Vegetables: Offer more dark green, red, and orange vegetables. Dark green vegetables include broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, and collard greens. Examples of orange and red vegetables are carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and red peppers.

      • 1 cup of cooked or raw vegetables

      • 1 cup of vegetable juice

      • 2 cups of raw leafy greens

  • Grains: Half of the grains your child eats each day should be whole grains.

    • Whole grains:

      • ½ cup of cooked brown rice or cooked oatmeal

      • 1 cup of whole-grain dry cereal

      • 1 slice of 100% whole-wheat or rye bread

    • Other grains:

      • ½ cup of cooked white rice or pasta

      • ½ of an English muffin

      • 1 small flour or corn tortilla

      • 1 mini bagel

  • Dairy foods: Offer fat free or low-fat dairy foods.

    • 1½ ounces of hard cheese (mozzarella, Swiss, cheddar)

    • 1 cup (8 ounces) of low-fat or fat free milk or yogurt

    • 1 cup of low-fat frozen yogurt or pudding

  • Meat and other protein sources: Offer lean meats and poultry. Bake, broil, and grill meat instead of frying it. Include a variety of seafood in place of some meat and poultry each week. Offer a variety of protein foods.

    • 1 egg

    • ¼ cup of cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils (1 ounce)

    • 1 small chicken breast or 1 small steak (about 3 ounces)

    • 1 small lean hamburger (2 to 3 ounces)

  • Fats: Limit saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. These unhealthy fats are found in shortening, butter, stick margarine, and animal fat. Offer the following healthy fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats).

    • 1 tablespoon of canola, olive, corn, sunflower, or soybean oil

    • 1 tablespoon of soft margarine

    • 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise

    • 2 tablespoons of salad dressing


You have the right to help plan your child's care. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

References and sources