11 to 18 year olds

Good nutrition is important for energy and continual growth and development.

Children over 11 have a high energy and nutrient requirement and need to follow a healthy, balanced diet to promote growth and development. At this age it is important to maintain any healthy eating habits that have been established in their childhood years.

Encourage your son or daughter to go shopping for food and show them what to look for on food labels. Let them cook and help plan meals by encouraging a positive interest in food. At this age you can help set them up with healthy eating habits for life. The energy, protein and fat requirements increase as your child reaches 15 and moves on towards adulthood, as shown below.

What your 11-14 year old needs

Daily energy and nutrient requirements for 11 to 14 year olds:

  Energy (EAR)* Protein (RNI)** Calcium (RNI)** Iron (RNI)** Total Fat Sat Fat Salt
Boys 2220 calories 42.1g 1000mg 11.3mg 86.3g 27.1g 6g
Girls 1845 calories 41.2g 800mg 14.8mg 71.6g 22.6g 6g

*EAR - Estimated Average Requirement
**RNI - Reference Nutrient Intake

What your 15-18 year old needs

Daily energy and nutrient requirements for 15 to 18 year olds:

  Energy (EAR)* Protein (RNI)** Calcium (RNI)** Iron (RNI)** Total Fat Sat Fat Salt
Boys 2775 calories 55.2g 1000mg 11.3mg 107.1g 33.7g 6g
Girls 2110 calories 45g 800mg 14.8mg 82.1g 25.8g 6g

*EAR - Estimated Average Requirement
**RNI - Reference Nutrient Intake


Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for our bodies. Starchy carbohydrate foods such as bread, rice, pasta, cereals, yams, chapattis, potatoes and sweet potatoes should be served at each mealtime to satisfy hungry appetites. As a guide about one third of the diet should be made up of starchy foods.

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Fat is important in the diet to provide energy, help the body absorb essential vitamins and maintain healthy skin and nerve function. However, a diet high in saturated fats can block arteries and raise cholesterol. It is important therefore to limit the amount of foods high in saturated fat in your teenager’s diet eg fast foods, cakes, biscuits, pies and pastries, fatty meats, butter and cream.

Try to choose foods such as lean meat, low fat yogurts, oily fish, seeds, nuts and vegetable oils and reduced fat spreads labelled high in monounsaturates or polyunsaturates. If your teenager is overweight encourage them to eat a healthy diet and be active rather than focus on losing weight.


Protein is needed for growth and energy and should be provided at each mealtime. Healthy sources of protein include lean meat, fish, dairy products and eggs. Try to include two portions of fish every week – one of which should be oily such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or pilchards to provide essential omega 3 fats. Young men can have up to four portions of oily fish a week but young women should avoid having more than two portions of oily fish a week if they hope to have a child in the future.


Calcium is an important mineral for teenagers, to ensure their bones and teeth continue to grow. Milk is a great source of calcium and a healthier alternative to sugary, fizzy drinks too. Dairy products such as low-fat yogurts and cheeses are also important sources. Vegetarian teenagers should meet all their calcium requirements if milk and dairy products are included frequently in the diet.

Teenagers who follow a vegan diet will find it more difficult to meet calcium requirements. It is, therefore, important to include the following useful sources of calcium: soya bean products, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, white bread, sesame seeds, dried fruit and foods fortified with extra calcium such as soya milk and breakfast cereals.

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Vitamin D

Vitamin D works with calcium to make bones stronger. Most of the vitamin D we need is made in the body from the action of sunlight on our skin.


Iron is necessary for healthy blood and a lack of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, which is associated with frequent infections, poor growth, poor weight gain and low moods. Lack of iron can also cause tiredness, difficulty in concentrating and a shortened attention span – all of which can particularly affect teenagers studying at school and for exams. Teenage girls are especially vulnerable to iron deficiency when they start their periods and have growth spurts.

Meat, especially red meat, and oily fish are the best sources of iron in the diet. Lean minced beef is a good source of iron and it can be used in a variety of ways – spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, cottage pie, pasta bake, chilli con carne or 100% beef burgers.

Teenagers following vegetarian and vegan diets need to eat a plentiful supply of iron-rich foods. Beans and lentils, whole grain cereals, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and watercress, dried fruit and fortified breakfast cereals are all good sources. However, iron from plant foods is not absorbed as well as it is from animal sources. Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron from foods so serve plenty of fruit and vegetables at mealtimes. A glass of diluted fruit juice is also another good way of providing vitamin C with meals.

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Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are vitally important to provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Your teenager should aim for five portions of fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit and vegetables per day. Try to encourage them to 'eat a rainbow' of colours to provide all the essential nutrients that can protect their health.

Fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C such as oranges, tomatoes, blackcurrants, peppers and watercress are particularly good for teenagers as the vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron and also helps maintain healthy skin. Potatoes do not count towards five-a-day, and fruit juice only counts as one portion, regardless of how many glasses are drunk in one day.

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On average most people eat too much salt. Teenagers should try to eat no more than 6g per day. Salt is often present in large amounts in processed foods, so encourage your teenager to read food labels and avoid snack foods that are high in salt, eg crisps.


Natural sugars are found in fruits, vegetables and milk. Foods that are high in added sugars eg biscuits, sweets, cakes and chocolates should be limited and only be eaten occasionally at mealtimes. Sweet, sugary foods and snacks between meals can cause dental decay. Teenagers need to brush their teeth regularly. Encourage your teenager to drink milk or water whenever possible and to avoid fizzy, sugary drinks.

Healthy snacks

Encourage your teenager to cut down on crisps and chocolate and offer alternative snacks:

  • Pitta bread and low-fat houmous
  • Wholemeal toast and low-fat spread
  • A wholemeal sandwich with lean ham or chicken and salad
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Fresh fruit or vegetable sticks
  • A glass of milk, milkshake made with fresh fruit or a smoothie
  • A bowl of cereal and milk
  • Toasted crumpets or muffins with low-fat spread
  • Scotch pancakes
  • Fruit bread or malt loaf
  • Dried fruits and nuts

For more information

Encourage your teenagers to find out more about healthy eating:

Children First @ NHS
www.childrenfirst.nhs (This link opens a new window)

Teen Weight Wise
www.teenweightwise.com (This link opens a new window)

Food Standards Agency
www.eatwell.gov.uk (This link opens a new window)

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