Nutrition is important throughout life, and it’s essential to build a strong foundation of diet variety, nutrient density, and healthy habits during childhood and adolescence. This is because, during this stage of life, children are growing at a rapid pace, and a healthy, balanced dietary pattern provides the building blocks needed for growth and development. Yet, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, school-age children and adolescents are falling short on consuming essential nutrients needed to build strong minds and strong bodies (1). Although tweens and teens are missing the mark on eating enough protein, iron, choline, vitamin B6 and B12, parents and caregivers have simple solutions at their fingertips! This stage of life is the perfect time to teach about healthy habits and the importance of nutrition for energy, focus, strength, and more.
Parents and caregivers can support growing kids with balanced diets rich in variety. This includes foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and of course, sources of lean protein, like beef. In fact, beef provides many essential nutrients needed for childhood growth and development, including high-quality protein, iron, zinc, choline and B-vitamins (2).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) recognize that lean meat, including beef, nourishes a healthy lifestyle (1). Protein, iron, zinc, choline, and B-vitamins in beef help ensure children build healthy bodies and brains (2-7).
As infants and toddlers move beyond the early years and into childhood and adolescence, nutrition remains an important, impactful factor in growth and development. The tween and teen years are a time of transformational change and increasing independence, and adolescents’ nutrient needs set the stage for optimal health and reduced chronic disease risk during adulthood (1).
Did you know, on average, adolescents, 10- to 19-year-olds, gain 15-20 percent of their final adult height, and 40-50 percent of their adult weight during this time. Bone mass also increases by 40 percent (8, 9).
Poor nutrient intake during childhood and adolescence can lead to significant growth and learning challenges, such as delayed physical development, poor academic performance, and depressed immune function (1, 8, 9). To set children up for success, it’s important to make sure they eat a balanced diet that provides the nutrients needed to fuel play, empower learning, and optimize growth. Beef’s nutrient package uniquely contributes to healthy childhood growth and development – let's learn about how some of beef’s nutrients play a role:
While nutrient needs are important to prioritize throughout the lifespan, adolescent girls and women of child-bearing age have increased nutrient demands that merit special attention. However, adolescent girls, particularly in the 14–18-year-old age range, are under-consuming essential nutrients that promote good health now and also lay the foundation for good health into and throughout adulthood. During this life stage, inadequate nutrient intakes can have impactful consequences given that this is age range typically encompassing the onset of puberty, menarche and other hormonal changes including potential pregnancy (1).
Nutrients available in animal source foods, like beef provide key components that are critical to addressing increased requirements in this group like readily bioavailable heme iron, zinc and vitamin B12 (1, 10-13). Adolescent girls tend to consume less meat, poultry and eggs than adolescent boys, which can result in underconsumption of total protein and may exacerbate other nutrient shortfalls in choline, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 -- nutrients available in beef (1).
As noted above, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has reported that the diet quality of school-age children and adolescents is poor (1). School meals can play an influential role in a child's development of a healthy eating pattern. For some, school meals can provide two thirds or more of their daily caloric intake.
As a nutrient-dense, high-quality lean protein, beef is a flavorful food which can be a foundational part of dietary patterns and healthful school meals. Providing high quality protein, zinc, iron, choline, phosphorus and B vitamins including B6 and B12, beef makes a perfect complement for other healthy foods on the plate like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy -- which all provide their own unique mix of nutrients like vitamin C, folate, calcium, potassium and dietary fiber.
Help your child build a strong mind and body with these healthy eating tips:
Recipe ideas for healthy families: