How to Teach Your Teenage Children to Eat Healthier
No matter how much you try to teach your kids the importance of healthy eating, by the time they get to their teenage years they often tend to make poor food choices. Fast food, soda and late night pizza pies….Don’t be surprised if you see them making strange food choices. Part of it is because they are away from home more hanging out with friends and doing extracurricular activities. When you are out and about, it is easy to go grab a burger and fries or even worse just a bag of chips. Peer pressure is another big factor. Your kids will want to eat what their friends are eating. And if everyone else wants to hit McDonald’s after school, they are going to want to follow suit. Body image is also big pressure during the teen years. Teenage girls feel the need to diet to fit into the smaller sized jeans and boys feel the need to gorge on high-calorie foods to bulk up.
It can be very frustrating watching our teens make the wrong food choices. So what can you do to help them navigate this challenging time? Here are some tips on how to teach your teenage children to eat healthier:
Set a healthy foundation
From the time they are babies, offer your children healthy food choices focusing on fresh vegetables and fruits and healthy proteins. Then when they are old enough to understand, talk to your children about the importance of eating healthy. Have them help you with the planning, shopping and cooking of meals and keep an open dialogue with them on the best ways to stay on track with their eating. Teach them that a little indulgence is okay once in a while as long as the majority of their meals are healthy.
If you have the space and time, try to grow a garden as a family so they can see where their food comes from. It will help facilitate good discussions about healthy food choices. Knowing how to read food labels is also a good skill your teenagers should know.
Keep the lines of communication open
Keep those discussions about healthy eating going even in their teen years when they are moody, non responsive, you know, typical teenagers. They are at a great age to understand the science behind nutrition so don’t be afraid to go in-depth about what happens in your body depending on your food choice. Also talk about how food is manufactured and the dangers of over processed foods. Talk about the farm to table movement, give them articles to read and videos to watch and have frank conversations about the challenges of eating healthy in our fast food driven society.
Make sure though that you don’t focus on how they look, but on their health. Focus on helping them be as healthy as possible, but accept the fact that you will not be able to control all of their food choices and they will sometime make choices you would disagree with. Teenagers tend to live in the now and don’t think too much about their future so try to focus on how their food choices make them feel now and not so much on how it will affect them in twenty or thirty years.
Stock your kitchen with healthy food options
While you don’t have a say about what your teenager eats outside of the home, if you stock your kitchen with unprocessed fresh options, at least you can take comfort in knowing that at home they are getting the right nutrients. Also try to eat family dinners together at least a couple of times a week. Make your home the favorite hangout spot for your kids and their friends so they want to be there more and you will have a better idea of what they are eating. Get creative about offering them teen-friendly healthy snack options like build your own pizzas.
Teach them how to navigate certain scenarios
Teenagers love to hang out at coffee shops, the mall, concerts and sporting events and parties and we all know that these places can be filled with delicious temptations. Have a discussion with them about picking healthier options in these situations. For examples, teens love how drinking coffee makes them feel more “adult,” but many of the coffee creations available today are filled with sugary syrup, chocolate and whip cream which translates into a lot of empty calories. Teach them to choose a regular coffee instead with non-fat or low fat milk and to put only a little bit of sugar into it.
At the mall also there are so many temptations with all the fast food vendors and candy shops, so help your teen learn how to find healthier options like salads and soups and to be careful of their portion sizes. Encourage them also to pay attention to their beverage choices as well and to stay away from the sodas.
At sporting events, teach your child to choose water over sodas and peanuts or a hot dog instead of French fries, ice cream or candy. Parties can also be a landmine to a healthy diet, so teach your teen to eat a balanced meal before going to the party so even if only junk food is offered at the party they will still being getting good nutrition the rest of the day.
One word of caution though is to make sure you are not too strict with them. If you push them to always eat healthy, it will backfire. Let them know that a treat once in a while is not a bad thing. Instead of trying to control all their decisions, teach them to make the right choices on their own. Help them learn how to listen to their body so they know when they are really hungry and how they feel after eating certain foods.
While as parents we want to keep our children safe at all times and it is difficult to let them make their own choices, being too controlling will only backfire on you. Give them the right tools and you will be pleasantly surprised to see them making smart food choices.