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Eating well for teens & young adults

Mōhiohio kai hauora mō ngā taiohi me ngā rangatahi

What you eat can have a positive effect on your mood, energy levels, academic and sporting performance.

The following tips can help you make healthy and nutritious eating choices.

Start the day with breakfast

Breakfast will give you a good start to the day and can improve your energy levels and ability to concentrate in the morning. If you do not like to eat breakfast or are short on time, try something quick. For example, a fruit smoothie made from milk (cow's or plant), plain yoghurt, frozen fruit and a little runny honey or maple syrup. You can also add leafy green vegetables such as spinach or kale.

If you just cannot face breakfast, try switching your breakfast to mid-morning snack time. If you are at school or work then, take some portable snacks with you such as fresh fruit, yoghurt, sushi, nuts or a sandwich.

Eat without distractions

Focus all your attention on eating. Turn off the TV and put your phone, laptop or other device away. When you are distracted while you eat, you can lose track of how much you have eaten.

Eat plenty of plant foods

Eating more plant-based foods is good for your health and the planet. You do not have to become vegetarian to eat more plant-based foods. Simple changes like filling half your dinner plate with vegetables and choosing a plant-based snack such as fruit or a peanut butter sandwich are a good place to start. For more information see Plant-based eating.

Pack your own lunch

This will save you money and help you eat better. Make sure to include a protein-rich food such as lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese or hummus as this will help you feel fuller for longer. For ideas, see 20 healthy work lunches you'll love from the Healthy Food Guide or Lunch box love from Healthy Kids.

Build strong bones

Building strong bones in your teen and young adult years can help you reduce your risk of weak bones and osteoporosis when you are older. Eating well and having plenty of protein-rich foods, vegetables and fruit and calcium-rich foods are good for your bones.

Choose healthy snacks

Healthy snacks are a good way to pack extra nutrition into your diet. If you play sport or attend training during dinnertime or other key eating times, snacks can be vital to help you maintain your energy levels. Good snacks include yoghurt, sandwiches, filled wraps and breakfast cereal with milk. Also, fruit smoothies, hard-boiled egg, nuts and a small tin of tuna.

Go easy on sugary snack foods such as dried fruit, biscuits, cake and chocolate. These will not fill you up and their high sugar content is not good for your teeth.

Keep water handy

Water is a better option than most drink choices. Keep a reusable water bottle in your bag and skip the sugary drinks like fruit juice, soft drinks, flavoured milks, sports and energy drinks. If you are hungry, choose a milk-based drink such as a fruit smoothie or a glass of milk. These are high in protein and will help fill you up. If you do not like cow's milk, soy milk is a good option as it has a lot more protein than almond or other plant milks.

Get active in the kitchen

The health benefits of a home-cooked meal outweigh almost any other method of eating, no matter the recipe. Cooking at home will also make you popular with your family or flatmates. Dishes like stir-fries, homemade pizza, curry, quesadillas and pasta dishes are quick and inexpensive. For recipe inspiration see the Healthy Food Guide or Love Food Hate Waste.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2023.


See also:

Eating well for strong healthy bones

Plant-based eating

Page reference: 53327

Review key: HIHEY-53327