Eating for Life

Nutrition for teens

Recommended calories per day:

  • 2,200 (girls)
  • 2,800 (boys)

The USDA Food Guide Pyramid is a guide to good eating. Here we spotlight examples of foods teens should consume more or less of as part of an overall healthy diet.

Note: Especially athletic teens may have higher nutrient and calorie requirements.


In the spotlight: Soda pop contains loads of empty calories. In the last two decades soft drink consumption has risen as milk consumption has declined.

Choices: From the vending machine at school to the fast-food restaurant on the corner, it's tough to wean teens from fat, sugar and salt when there are so many choices. But the goal is to make smart choices by moving soda pop and junk food to an occasional treat.

Use sparingly


In the spotlight: A smoothie provides a double-whammy - dairy and fruit - in a delicious drink without all the empty soda calories.

Choices: Low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt and cheese.

2 to 3 servings a day


In the spotlight: Fast food is a common meal for teens, but choose wisely. Try grilled chicken instead of burgers.

Choices: Lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, legumes, soy.

2 servings a day for girls, 3 for boys


In the spotlight: Most teens are on the run, juggling busy schedules and active social lives. Aside from being the quintessential grab-and-go fruit, bananas contain tryptophan, which the brain uses to produce serotonin, a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter that can ease stress.

Choices: Apricots, apples, bananas, berries, citrus fruit, cherries, kiwifruit, plums, pears, grapes, pineapple, melons.

3 servings a day for girls, 4 for boys


In the spotlight: Teens love french fries, but baked sweet potato fries are a smarter choice. Not only are they low in fat and calories, they add beta carotene to the diet. Beta carotene may reduce sebum production, one of the causes of acne.

Choices: Avocado, broccoli, carrots, corn, peas, squash, leafy greens.

4 servings a day for girls, 5 for boys


In the spotlight: An alarming number of teens skip breakfast preferring to catch a few extra winks. Studies show concentration suffers when teens choose not to eat. Whole-grain cereals are one way to get good nutrition and start the day off right.

Choices: Whole-grain cereals, granola bars, whole-grain crackers, whole-grain tortillas, whole-grain pasta, brown rice.

9 servings a day for girls, 11 for boys