The teenage years are a time of transition between childhood and adulthood. Teenagers’ bodies are going through a stage of rapid growth and development meaning energy and nutrient requirements are even higher than adults’. Unfortunately this age group tend to eat a lot of convenience foods including confectionery, sugary drinks and fast food, and as a result their diets may not be nutritionally sufficient.

Rapid increases in height, weight and bone development, along with a number of other physical changes during the teenage years can have a major influence on nutritional requirements, and demand for both nutrients and energy are high.

Teens should be consuming more calories than adults. However, some teenagers may be vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. Anything that increases nutritional needs, such as taking part in competitive sport, or interferes with food intake, such as dieting, can have a great impact on meeting nutrient requirements.

The best way for teenagers to get all the nutrients and energy they need, is to eat a wide variety of nutrient rich foods from the food groups.

There are some nutrients which are particularly important for teenagers including protein, iodine, iron, vitamin D and calcium – which are needed for growth and development.


Milk, hard cheese and yogurt are sources of calcium, phosphorus and protein, which are important nutrients for bone health.

Teens have an increased need for calcium, and it is very common for them to fall short of their recommended daily intake – particularly girls. The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey reported that 19% of 11- to 18- year old girls are not getting the calcium they need from food.

If teenage girls are worried about the fat content in dairy foods – they need not be! There are plenty of lower-fat options available; semi-skimmed, 1% fat and skimmed milk, as well as low-fat yogurt and reduced-fat cheeses. These are good options as they contain all the calcium but fewer calories than whole milk products.

Foods from the dairy group also contain other important nutrients such as vitamin B12, riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2), iodine, phosphorus and potassium.


Tempting as they are, foods high in sugar and fat should only be a small part of a teen’s diet as they are high in energy but low in nutrients.

New guidelines recommend reducing sugar intake. Teens are recommended to decrease their consumption of of sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juices as they contain free sugars which are harmful to teeth.


Dehydration can cause headaches, tiredness and light-headedness. It’s recommended to drink six to eight mugs, cups or glasses of fluid a day (approximately 1.2 litres), and more during hot weather or exercise. Water and milk are the best choices for between meals as they are not harmful to teeth. If consuming sugary drinks, stick to mealtimes.


Try to encourage your teen to grab something for breakfast – it doesn’t have to be a big meal – a bowl of cereal with milk or toast is super quick, or take a bagel to go! Breakfast provides an energy boost and helps to meet some of their nutrient needs. All in all, it’s a good habit to develop that will serve your teen well for the years to come.

It’s likely that your teen will still be having one of their main meals of the day away from home. The food teenagers eat at school can make an important contribution to their dietary intake. Different governing bodies control school food policy in England, Scotland and Wales:


The School Food Standards set out the requirements for food provided in educational settings in England. They are designed to ensure pupils are offered nutritious meals and snacks during the school day and aim to increase the vitamin and mineral content and decrease fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content from children’s diets.

For further information on food in schools visit the School Food Plan and the Children’s Food Trust


Better Eating, Better Learning was released in 2014 to help schools, local authorities, caterers, parents in Scotland, to work together to make further improvements in school food and food education.

Also see Scottish School Meals


The Healthy Eating in Schools (Nutritional Standards & Requirements) (Wales) Regulations 2013 sets out the type of foods which can and can’t be provided by schools to ensure nutritious foods are available in primary schools in Wales.


Every school child in the UK, aged from 5 to 18 years, is eligible for EU-subsidised milk at school each day. Many schools take advantage of the scheme to provide breaktime milk for their pupils. It is important to encourage your kids to take advantage of this and drink the milk that is provided.

As well as calcium, milk provides other essential nutrients including protein, phosphorus, potassium, iodine and vitamins B12 and B2, and can be a useful boost to meeting children’s nutrient needs.

For more information on school milk, visit the Government website.


Although school dinners are now subject to food standards, many teenagers take a packed lunch to school. Most schools have their own policies in place for packed lunch so it is best to check with them about what is allowed and not allowed.



Many schools offer breakfast clubs which also follow the food standards set out by the local government. Some breakfast clubs are provided for free by outside organisations who also have to follow the school food standards. To find out if your school offers this service, contact them directly.

Last reviewed: 03/2019
Next review due: 03/2021




September 30, 2016



September 29, 2016