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10th grade nutrition guide: Find out what you need to know for your child

Here's what you should know about healthy eating for your 10th-grader.
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Your 10th-grader’s tastes and food preferences are likely ingrained at this point, so if your child hasn’t always been a healthy eater, it may be more difficult for you to encourage them to become one now. But it’s worth a try. Find ways to emphasize the benefits of healthy choices. Does your child play sports? Healthy foods will help them build muscle and have more energy. Does your child worry about their appearance? A healthy diet can improve skin, hair, and weight.

Proper nutrition at this age not only supports their growing body, but also prepares them for preventing chronic illness and other long-term health risks as your child ages. As your teenager gets closer to adulthood, it’s important that they understand the importance of a healthy diet so they can make healthy choices even when they're on their own or out with friends. Half of their plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables and the rest with lean meats and whole grains. If he’s eating a balanced diet, he’ll receive all the nutrients needed and putt themselves on track to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the future.

The following serving suggestions are based on the USDA's MyPlate nutrition guidelines, unless otherwise noted. The recommendations are for children who get less than 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Depending on your child’s activity level, your child may require even more healthy food. The recommendations allow for more food for boys. This is because girls tend to add more body fat and grow more slowly than boys, while boys add lean body mass. The guidelines and tips here are intended as a resource for parents, and not as a substitute for speaking with your child's health care provider.



As a high-nutrient and low-calorie food group, vegetables are powerhouse foods. They are full of phytonutrients, which protect the body from some diseases, and fiber, which contributes to feeling full. Green leafy vegetables are high in iron, which carries oxygen within the blood. Iron is particularly important for girls going through puberty, as their body loses iron during menstruation. To aid the body's absorption of plant-based iron, serve high iron foods with foods high in Vitamin C like oranges or strawberries. Beans and greens also contain calcium, which is important for your child's still-growing bones.

Vegetables: How many?

Your daughter should eat about 2½ cups, while your son should eat about 3 cups of vegetables each day. What counts as a cup? One large red pepper or 12 baby carrots all count as a cup. Two cups of leafy vegetables like spinach or lettuce, counts as 1 cup of vegetables.


Fruits, like vegetables, are full of nutrients and are low calories. Like vegetables, fruits also contain fiber, which aids in your child's digestion and helps them feel full. Fruits, like strawberries and watermelon, also contain iron – a mineral deficient in most adolescent diets. Potassium found in fruits helps the body regulate water in the body and can even help prevent high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. 100% juice can be a way for your teen to get some of the nutrition benefits from fruit, but juice does not have the fiber of whole fruits. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting your teen’s 100% juice consumption to 8 to 12 ounces each day.

Fruits: How many?

Your daughter should eat about 1½ cups of fruits each day while your son should eat about 2 cups each day. What counts as a cup? One small apple, one medium grapefruit, and one large peach all equal one cup.


Whole grains are an important part of a balanced diet for teenagers. Most Americans consume enough grains, but few consume enough whole grains, according to the USDA. Whole grains are unprocessed and contain more fiber and nutrients than their processed counterparts. Brown rice, oatmeal, and whole wheat bread are a few examples. White rice and white bread are not whole grains. The fiber in whole grains helps your teenager feel fuller longer, and the B vitamins in whole grains aid in nervous system functions. Many grain products also contain iron, or are enriched with iron, which is an especially important mineral for your daughter.

Grains: How many?

Your daughter should eat about 6 ounces each day while your son should eat about 8 ounces per day. At any age, at least half of your child's daily grain intake should be from whole grains. What counts as an ounce? One packet of instant oatmeal, half a whole wheat English muffin, and one piece of whole wheat bread all count as one ounce.


Protein is one of the main sources of energy for the body, and is key to muscle and bone development. Many protein sources like meats, beans, and nuts, are also high in zinc and iron, two nutrients teens often don’t get enough of their diets. Iron is particularly important for girls going through puberty, as they lose iron during menstruation. The type of iron found in meats is absorbed more easily than iron found in plant foods like vegetables and grains.

Although research shows that most Americans eat enough protein, many protein sources can also be high in fat, so it is important to focus on the type of protein. Choosing leaner meats, like fish or skinless chicken, or beans, instead of non-lean beef is a good way to keep saturated fat and calories down. Too much saturated fat in the diet can lead to risk factors for numerous chronic diseases, so it's important to help your teenager make healthy choices.

Protein: How much?

Your 10th-grade daughter should consume about 5 ounces of protein each day, while your son should eat about 6½ ounces of protein each day. Your teen should have protein at snacks and meals. What counts as an ounce? Twelve almonds, 1/4 cup of beans, or one sandwich slice of turkey are all the same as an ounce.


Even if your teenager appears to be finished growing, dairy is still an important part of their diet. From childhood to adolescence, your child's bones are absorbing calcium to keep them strong throughout adulthood. The teen years are crucial as they’re the last time your child can build bone mass. Around age 18, bones stop adding density and decrease their ability to absorb calcium. Too much calcium loss can lead to bone fractures as well as osteoporosis later in life. Most dairy products contain calcium, and many are fortified with vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. While dairy is an important part of your teenager's diet, choosing low-fat dairy options helps keep calorie and saturated fat intake down. After the age of 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children consume low-fat (1%) or non-fat (skim) milks. While 2% is not recommended, it is still a better option than whole (which is about 3%). For teens who are lactose intolerant, fortified low-sugar soy milk and lactose-free dairy milk are good substitutes.

Dairy: How much?

Your 10th-grader should consume about 3 cups of dairy each day. What counts as a cup? Eight ounces of milk or calcium-fortified soy milk is the same as a cup. One-and-a-half ounces (the size from the tip to the base of your thumb) of hard cheese, like cheddar or mozzarella, counts as 1 cup. Soy milk is alternative to dairy milk and provides more calcium and less saturated (or “bad’) fat.

Oils & fats

Not all fat is bad. In fact, fat provides a source of energy for the body, helps the body store energy, and also aids in the absorption of key vitamins like A, D, E, and K. But getting too much fat can put your teen at risk for obesity and heart disease. The type of fat your teenager consumes is also an important factor. Unhealthy fat, or saturated fats, are usually solid at room temperature. Examples of these are butter or shortening. Saturated fats are also found in red meats and whole milk. These unhealthy fats can be linked to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. According to the American Heart Association, plaque buildup is already formed by the teen years, raising your teen’s risk of heart disease later in life. Healthy fats, or unsaturated fats, are generally liquid at room temperature. Healthy fats are also found in nuts, avocados, and fish such as salmon and sardines. Unsaturated fats do not contribute to plaque buildup in the body.

Oils & fats: How much?

It is hard to track the amount of fat your teen consumes, and it is likely that they are getting all the healthy fats your child needs from foods they are already eating. For an idea of how much is too much, the USDA recommends that your teen limit the unhealthy types of fat, and limit overall fat intake to 5 teaspoons a day for girls and 6 teaspoons a day for boys. How much is a teaspoon of fat in foods? For example, in one quarter pound cheeseburger from a fast food chain, there can be 26-42 grams (about 7 to 11 teaspoons) of fat, with 13 ½ to 16 grams (about 4 teaspoons) of unhealthy fats. In contrast, half a medium avocado contains 3 teaspoons of healthy fats, and a 3-ounce serving of salmon contains 10 grams (about 3 teaspoons) of fats.

Sodium & salt

When it comes to food, sodium and salt are often used interchangeably, but salt is actually a combination of sodium and chloride. Sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and other health concerns. While the body does need a small amount of sodium to maintain water balance, studies show that most American children consume twice the recommended amount of sodium.

Sodium and salt are used to enhance flavor in food as well as to increase the shelf life of food products. Examples of high-sodium foods are frozen pizzas, frozen dinners, canned soups, and fried foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control, teenagers consume most of their salt from processed foods and foods which are eaten outside of the home. Examples of those foods include fries, chicken dishes, and pizza. While it may be hard to track the amount of sodium your teen consumes, our experts say the best strategy to limit sodium is to avoid the salt shaker and prepare most of your meals at home.

Sodium & salt: How much?

The American Heart Association recommends limiting your child’s sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. How much is 1,500 milligrams of sodium? Some frozen dinners, even the ones labeled “healthy” can have up to 700 to 1,100 milligrams of sodium in one serving. An average store-bought frozen supreme pizza, while convenient and quick to make, can have as many as 900 milligrams of sodium per serving. If your teen has a large appetite and eats the entire pie, your child could consume up to 3,600 milligrams of sodium in one sitting.

Added sugars

The empty calories from added sugars offer no nutritional value, which is why they’re referred to as “empty.” They should be limited to very small amounts in the diet. Sweetened cereals, cookies, juices, candy, and soda all contain added sugars, and some are simply empty calories. Eating too much added sugar can increase your teen’s weight and put their at a higher risk for obesity and other health concerns. While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to keep your teen from eating any sugar, it’s important to talk to their about moderation and limiting added sugars.

Added sugars: How much?

The USDA recommends your teen’s added sugar intake be limited to no more than half of their daily empty calories. Your daughter shouldn’t have more than 5 teaspoons (or 20 grams) of added sugars each day, and your son shouldn’t have more than about 8 teaspoon (or 33 grams) each day. Added sugars can really add up quickly. In one 20-ounce bottle of soda, there can be 16¼ teaspoons (or 65 grams) of added sugar. In one small package of fruit snacks there can be 3¼ teaspoons of sugar (or 13 grams).

Sugar-sweetened beverages

Sugar-sweetened beverages are popular among teens, and research shows that teenagers and young adults consume more sugar-sweetened drinks than any other age group. Soda, sweetened tea, energy drinks, sweetened waters, and some juices are all sugar-sweetened beverages and they are all full of added sugars, calories, and of virtually no nutritional value. Consuming too many sugary beverages can put your teen at risk of being overweight or obese, which can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Some sugar-sweetened beverages offer a “diet” or “lite” version that is sweetened with artificial sweeteners. These items are lower in calories and sugar, but they also offer no nutritional value. There hasn’t been enough research done for the American Academy of Pediatrics to offer a recommendation on their use in children. Our experts emphasize water, milk, and limited amounts of 100% juice as the best options for your teen.

What about diet drinks?

Some sugar-sweetened beverages offer a “diet” or “lite” version that is sweetened with artificial sweeteners. These items are lower in calories and sugar, but they also offer no nutritional value. There hasn’t been enough research done for the American Academy of Pediatrics to offer a recommendation on their use in children. Our experts emphasize water, milk, and limited amounts of 100% juice as the best options for your teen.

What about sports drinks?

Sports drinks are a popular sugar-sweetened beverage among teens. They are often marketed to teens as a way of replacing electrolytes lost during exercise. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sports drinks are not necessary for children to consume unless they are participating in extended, vigorous activity for more than one hour. In other cases, most teens will get the necessary nutrients and hydration from simply drinking plain water and eating a balanced diet.

What about energy drinks?

Energy drinks are another popular beverage among teens. The drinks often contain a combination of caffeine, sugar, sweeteners, and herbal supplements. According to a report published in the journal Pediatrics, the drinks can have serious side effects, including seizures and sudden death. Studies show the drinks can be particularly harmful when mixed with alcohol. While the beverage industry largely states the products are safe, little research has been done on the effects of caffeine on children. Our experts recommend that your teen restrict consumption of these drinks.


Water is the most important nutrient for your teenager’s body and is necessary for almost every bodily function. It helps the body control temperature, cushions joints, and gets rid of waste. As much as 75 percent of your teenager’s body weight can be from water. Your teen loses water through sweating, breathing, and urinating and it’s important that your child stay hydrated. Having enough water can even keep your teen feeling energized.

Water: How much?

The Institute of Medicine recommends that your daughter drink 8 cups of fluid each day and your son should drink 11 cups of fluid. Those cups include plain water as well as other beverages like milk. Our experts suggest at least half your teen’s fluid come from plain water, so that means 4 cups of plain water for your daughter and about 5-6 cups of water for your son.


Your teenager is probably very sleepy at this age, and not entirely interested in breakfast. Some teens choose to skip breakfast because they think it will help them lose weight, while others skip it because of a lack of time in the morning. Breakfast, however, is still a crucial meal for your 10th-grader. Breakfast has been shown to improve a student's classroom performance and attention. If you're short on time, breakfast can be made the night before, or grabbed on the way out the door. Skipping breakfast for weight concerns can lead to overeating later in the day.

Breakfast: Healthy choices

What is a healthy breakfast? Meals with whole grains, fruit, and lean protein are best. For example, a hard-boiled egg with whole wheat toast and a banana are quick and healthy choices. Adding spinach or broccoli to an omelet is a good way to add vegetables in the morning. Short on time? Pack a bag with dried fruits, nuts, and low-sugar cereal for on-the-go eating. Or pack a smoothie with low-fat yogurt, frozen berries, and even some spinach. What's not a healthy breakfast? Doughnuts and soft drinks, which are loaded with empty calories and added sugars. If your child eats at school, encourage their to choose healthy options like whole fruits and eggs rather than bacon and pancakes. Some teens don’t like traditional breakfast foods. In this case, try serving leftovers from dinner, or a turkey sandwich on whole wheat toast.

Learn more about how to encourage healthy eating habits for your child with our 10th grade nutrition tips page.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Wanda Koszewski, Associate Professor and Department Chair for Human Nutrition, Winthrop University; Manuel Villacorta, Author, Speaker and Registered Dietitian, Whole Body Reboot; and Dr. Natasha Burgert, Pediatrician, Pediatric Associates.