5 essential nutrients and an ideal diet plan for teenage boys

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On average, teenage boys need around 2,800 calories every day, compared to an average of 2,200 calories that girls need (1). While both boys and girls need a wholesome, nutritious diet to support growth, the kind of foods that boys need could vary from what girls need.

In this MomJunction post, we tell you about the dietary requirements of teenage boys, the nutrients they need for healthy development, and a diet plan to promote healthy growth.

Nutrients A Teenage Boy Needs

All nutrients are vital for a child’s growth, and they should have a balanced diet to achieve that. The primary nutrient groups are proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Proteins, carbs, and fats are the energy sources for the body, while vitamins and minerals are essential for the overall development of a teenage boy. Vitamins and minerals can be obtained from the same foods that also supply protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

1. Protein

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  • Protein is the building block of muscles, and 50% of body weight is made of protein (1).
  • The most common sources of protein are meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dairy products.
  • Focus on providing lean meat to your teenage boy since it contains adequate protein but low-fat content.

2. Carbohydrates

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  • Carbohydrates are of two types: complex and simple (2) (3) (4). Complex carbohydrates burn slowly and provide sustained energy. Examples include wheat flour, rice, grains with fiber, and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
  • Simple carbohydrates are sugars found in sweetened products such as cakes and beverages but are also found in healthier sources such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy.
  • Carbohydrates provide the energy that teen boys need for their everyday activities. Complex carbohydrates should make 50 to 60% of a teenage boy’s carbohydrate intake.

3. Fats

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  • Fats could be monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats, or saturated fats.
  • Monounsaturated fats are the healthiest of all and are found in foods such as olive oil, peanut oil, peanut butter, and nuts like cashews, walnuts, and almonds.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are found in oils from seeds of sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, and sesame seed.
  • Saturated fat contains the most amount of cholesterol. It is found in dairy, red meat, coconut, and palm oil.
  • Fats are essential for the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat should not make for more than 30% of a teenage boy’s diet; and saturated fat content should not be more than 10% of the total fat intake.

4. Vitamins:

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  • A teenage boy can get sufficient vitamins by consuming an assortment of fruits and vegetables.
  • Teenagers usually tend to get lesser vitamin D than needed. Foods fortified with vitamin D (health drinks and cereal) and some exercise in the morning sun should prevent the likelihood of vitamin D deficiency.

5. Minerals:

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  • Minerals are micronutrients that are needed in minimal quantities.
  • If your teenage boy has a healthy balanced diet, then obtaining the daily recommended amount of minerals from the food they eat will not be difficult. Essential minerals they should get through food include calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and iodine.

It is essential to provide the right amount of servings of different foods to ensure that your boy can get all the vital nutrients he needs.

What Is An Ideal Diet Plan For Teenage Boys?

Below is an ideal diet plan to meet the daily calorie requirements (2800 calories) of a teenage boy.

Food GroupNumber of servings a day
Whole grains and refined grains11
Dairy products3
Meat, legumes, and nuts3*

* The total of the servings should not exceed 7 ounces (200 grams)

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services (5)

It is good to know the size of each portion/serving before learning about the number of servings your teenage boy needs. Below is the quantity per serving of a food group:

Food GroupContents of One Serving
Whole grains and refined grains1 slice of bread
1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal
1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
Vegetables1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
1/2 cup of other vegetables cooked or raw
3/4 cup of vegetable juice
Fruits1 medium apple, banana, orange, pear
1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
3/4 cup of fruit juice
Dairy products1 cup of low-fat milk or yogurt
1 1/2 ounces of low-fat natural cheese (such as Cheddar)
2 ounces of low-fat processed cheese
Meat, legumes, and nuts2-3 ounces (57-85 grams) of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
1 egg counts as 1 ounce (28 grams) of lean meat
1/2 cup of tofu counts as 1 ounce (28 grams) of lean meat
1/3 cup of nuts counts as 1 ounce (28 grams) of meat
1/2 cup of cooked dry beans
2 1/2-ounce soy burger
2 tablespoons of peanut butter

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services (5)

The above diet should allow a teenage boy to have requisite calories and nutrients for healthy growth. While parents strive to provide nourishment through meals, children often desire a tasty, between-the-meals snack, which could lead to extra calorie consumption.

Is It Okay For Teenagers To Have A Snack?

Yes. Children, especially teenagers, are quite likely to feel hungry between meals. There is nothing wrong with snacking as long as it is healthy like a fruit, a bowl of nuts, or any other homemade finger food. Processed foods with added sugar and saturated fats can be bad.

Some healthy snacks ideas for teenage boys could be (6) (7):

  • Ready-to-eat fruits that require no peeling of skin or have skin that is easy to peel. A few examples are apples, pears, bananas, and grapes.
  • Vegetables that can be enjoyed raw or boiled, with some seasoning. Examples include raw carrots, boiled celery, and broccoli seasoned with spices.
  • If the teenager wants something exciting, then you can consider making a homemade vegetable omelet or cook a small bowl of vegetable spaghetti.

Even healthy meals could accumulate excess calories when not restricted. Eating nutritious food is healthy when you eat in the right quantities.

How Many Meals And Snacks Is Healthy In A Day?

Three meals and three snacks a day is an ideal combination to maintain a teenage boy’s healthy body weight (8). Skipping breakfast is not ideal since it provides the required calories to jump-start the day. It may even minimize the risk of overeating or binge eating later in the day.

Teenage boys grow at a faster pace, which makes their dietary requirements a bit different compared to younger boys or adults. They could eat more of whatever you give them, or be fussy and picky about it. But you do not have to worry as long as they are eating healthily, and meeting their dietary requirements.

Do you follow a specific diet plan for your teenager? Tell us about it in the comments section below.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. A teenager’s nutritional needs; American Academy of Pediatrics
2. Carbohydrates; American Heart Association
3. Simple carbohydrates; US National Library of Medicine
4. Complex carbohydrates; US National Library of Medicine
5.Dietary Guidelines for Americans; US Department of Health and Human Services
6. Take charge of your health: a guide for teenagers; US Department of Health and Human Services
7. 10 tips: Choose the foods you need to grow; United States Department of Agriculture
8. Underweight teen boys; NHS UK


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