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Does This Count as Dinner?

How to turn typical meals into a healthy teen diet

Making 'Junk' Foods Part of a Healthy Teen Diet continued...

A sticky bun or toaster pastry. If you have one of these for breakfast, grab a piece of fruit, a cheese stick, or a carton of low-fat milk on the way out the door. Milk or cheese will give you protein and calcium. Fruit has fiber and vitamins. Want to make it even healthier? Swap out the pastry for peanut butter on whole wheat toast, a bran muffin, or breakfast burrito instead. Peanut butter, beans, and eggs are all sources of protein. Bran has fiber, which is filling. "Whole grains and proteins for breakfast will fill you up and keep you going," says Washington D.C. pediatrician Danielle Dooley, MD.

Fried mozzarella sticks. While fried cheese sticks contain protein and calcium, they have a lot of calories and fat, too. If you're lunching on a la carte treats such as mozzarella cheese sticks at school, have them with low-fat milk to drink and some kind of fruit -- fresh, frozen, or packaged in its own juice or light syrup. The main meal served in the cafeteria line is probably your best bet for lunch, however, because it likely includes a fruit or a vegetable.

Pizza. Choose veggie toppings instead of fatty, salty sausage or pepperoni. Then instead of an extra slice, chomp on a side of fresh fruit or salad. It will round out the meal and help keep you feeling full longer.

Soft drinks. Sugared sodas or energy drinks are really best avoided. "None of them have any nutrition, yet they tend to be filling," Beach says. "They're all calories that add up quickly." (If you drank a 20-ounce cola every day, the calories could add up to 26 pounds in a year.) "Plus, we don't yet know the health effects all those stimulants and caffeine in the energy drinks have over time." Flavored seltzer or mineral water or water with a squeeze of lemon is a tasty alternative.

Easy Healthy Meals: Building a Better Dinner

When it's dinner time, figure out which fruits and veggies you like most, and try different ways of working them in to your meals. You might like vegetables stir-fried with soy sauce and a little sesame oil, for example, or an apple baked with raisins and a little brown sugar.

But what if there isn't time for all that? Here are some suggestions for healthy dinners when you're in a hurry:

  • Make a meal of whole wheat crackers, string cheese, yogurt, and dried fruits.
  • Melt reduced-fat mozzarella over a bagel with pizza sauce and veggies as a topping.
  • Make a quesadilla that includes chopped frozen veggies.

"Whatever you do, don't skip a meal, especially if you're watching your weight," advises Kristen Liebl, LRD, a clinical dietitian with Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D. "If you let yourself get overly hungry, you're more apt to overeat later."

Eating healthy doesn't have to be a chore. Sometimes, you can still eat small portions of the foods you really enjoy if you balance them with good nutrition, too.

Reviewed on January 22, 2012