Skip to Content

Normal Diet for Adolescents - 12 to 18 Years of Age

What is it? Nutrition for adolescents (teenagers) means giving them enough nutrients from age 12 to18 years of age. Your teenager will go through several growth spurts during this time. He will become taller and gain weight quickly. Make sure he has a wide variety of food for snacks and meals. This will give him enough nutrients in the food he eats. Nutrients are calories, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.


  • Nutrient Needs: The amount of calories and protein that your teenager needs each day depends on his age and weight in kilograms. Divide your teenager's weight in pounds by 2.2 to figure out what he weighs in kilograms (kg). The calories and protein needed for growth are higher if your teenager is active in sports or fitness programs. Ask your caregiver what a good weight is for your teenager at each phase in his growth. They can help you raise or lower calorie intake to stay at the best weight.
    • Calories
      • From 12 to 14: about 45 to 55 calories per kg
      • Age 15 to 18: about 40 to 45 calories per kg
    • Protein
      • Age 12 to 14: about 1 gram per kg
      • Age 15 to 18: about 0.9 grams per kg
    • Vitamins and minerals: Your teenager does not need to take extra vitamins or minerals if he eats a balanced diet. Ask your caregiver before giving your teenager any vitamin or mineral supplements.
  • Changing Food Habits
    • Teenagers are often very busy with school, work, and sports schedules. Help your teenager plan his day if he will not be home for meals. Send healthy snacks or packed lunches with him. This will help him avoid filling up on "junk" food or high fat foods. They may need extra snacks to take with them or meals they can prepare quickly.
    • Your teenager still learns from your healthy eating habits. Teach by example and praise his good food choices whenever you can. Try not to be critical of his appearance at this time of life. Teenagers can easily become too worried about their body image. If they are eating too much or too little, it can effect their growth. Talk with your caregiver if you are worried about your teenager's eating habits.
  • Food Group Choices
    • Give your teenager at least one serving per day of a high vitamin C food. Examples are citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, potatoes, and green peppers. Your teenager also needs one serving per day of a high vitamin A food. This includes spinach, winter squash, carrots, or sweet potatoes.
    • Choose lean meats, fish, and poultry foods for your teenager. Also, give your teenager 2% milk and lowfat dairy foods after age 2 to limit saturated fat intake. Avoid fried foods and high fat desserts except on special occasions. This will lower his risk for heart disease when he is older.
    • The sample 3000 calorie menu below will help you plan meals and snacks. If your teenager needs more calories, add more foods from each food group every day.

Serving Sizes: Use the serving size list below to measure amounts of food and liquids.

  • 1-1/2 cups (12 ounces) of liquid is the size of a soda-pop can.
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) of food is the size of a large handful.
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of food is about half of a large handful.
  • 1 ounce of cheese is about the size of a 1 inch cube.
  • 2 tablespoons (Tbsp) is about the size of a large walnut.
  • 1 tablespoon (Tbsp) is about the size of the tip of your thumb (from the last crease).
  • 1 teaspoon (tsp) is about the size of the tip of your little finger (from the last crease).
  • A serving means the size of food after it is cooked. Three ounces of cooked meat is about the size of a deck of cards.


  • Breads / Starches: Most teens need 5 to 10 servings per day. One serving is the amount listed below.
    • 1 bagel or muffin
    • 2 slices bread
    • 1/2 cup cooked cereal, pasta, potatoes, or rice
    • 1 ounce or 3/4 cup dry cereal
  • Fruits: Most teens need 2 to 3 servings per day. One serving is the amount listed below.
    • 1/2 cup canned fruit or fruit juice
    • 1 piece fresh fruit, such as an apple, orange, peach, or pear
    • 15 to 20 grapes
    • 1-1/2 cups fresh berries or melon
  • Meat / Meat Substitutes: Most teens need 3 to 5 servings per day. One serving is the amount listed below.
    • 1/2 cup cottage or ricotta cheese
    • 3/4 to 1 cup cooked dried beans or legumes
    • 1 egg
    • 1 ounce lowfat or regular cheese
    • 2 to 3 ounces meat, fish, or poultry
    • 2 to 3 Tbsps peanut butter (after age 2)
  • Milk or Yogurt: Most teens need 4 to 5 servings per day. One serving is equal to 1 cup lowfat milk or yogurt. If your teenager does not like milk or yogurt, one ounce of cheese or 1/2 cup of cottage cheese may be used instead.
  • Vegetables: Most teens need 2 to 3 servings per day. One serving is the amount listed below.
    • 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw vegetable
    • 2 cups salad greens
    • 1 cup vegetable or tomato juice
  • Your teen should eat only enough of the following foods to meet their calorie needs.
    • Fats: Most teens need 2 to 4 servings per day. One serving is the amount listed below.
      • 6 almonds or 10 peanuts
      • 2 Tbsps cream cheese, avocado, or low calorie salad dressing
      • 1 tsp oil, margarine, mayonnaise, or butter
      • 1 Tbsp salad dressing
    • Sweets and Desserts: Eat only enough from this group to stay at a good body weight. Many teenagers can eat 1 to 3 servings per week without gaining too much weight. Remember too much sweets and desserts will also effect the amount of skin problems your teenager has, like pimples. One serving is a medium portion, such as 1/8 of a pie, 1/2 cup ice cream, a 3-inch pastry,1/2 cup pudding, or 2 small cookies.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your child's dietary health. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat your child.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.