Just at the time when a teenager is going through incredible physical growth and changes, the issue of eating habits starts to wind out of a parent’s direct control. The teenager who drives, works, participates in innumerable activities and considers a stop at a fast-food drive-in a daily requirement is most probably not getting appropriate nutrition. In addition, by becoming victims of the sugar-high/drop-in-energy cycle, teenagers are sabotaging themselves. By following a few simple suggestions, parents may be able to improve their teenagers’ diets.
Help your teenager start the day right by having lots of grab and go breakfasts readily available. Make up a variety of breakfast bags using clear food storage bags (so the contents are easily visible). Tuck in fruit selections such as bananas or oranges; a protein item such as an (already peeled) hard-boiled egg or a small carton of yogurt; and some whole-wheat items like a low-sugar granola bar or peanut butter cracker sandwiches. Consider buying school-size cartons of skim milk and include one of these as well.
Spend some time discussing possible school lunch ideas. If your teenager buys lunch at school, you might get a copy of the menus and talk about what possible choices seem both edible and nutritionally sound. Sometimes it takes only an explanation of just how something like a “tater tot” or a corn dog is made to bring on an enormous “Yuk.” Offer to make school lunches for your teenagers; yes, they are capable of packing their own lunch, but if you’re seriously concerned about the nutrition issue, it’s worth the time it takes to shop, prepare and pack those lunches.
Fill your cupboards and refrigerator with healthy, appealing snacks and make a vow not to buy those items that do nothing to improve your teenager’s nutrition. That means you will be modeling the eating habits you hope to instill; your child will not see you munching on greasy corn chips and guzzling soda—diet or not. Buy healthy baked chips, whole-wheat crackers, a variety of unsalted nuts; prepare nutrition-packed dips; stock low-calorie calcium-loaded ice milk treats. Look into recipes for cookies and muffins that use applesauce instead of fat. Replace soda with fruit juice and skim milk, regular or chocolate.
Make dinners that can be easily reheated for a hungry teenager who can’t be home at family dinnertime. Let teenagers know that whether they are home or not for the evening meal, they will have a supper to eat when they come home.
Model good eating habits when you eat out with your teenager. Order healthy items from the menu without comment—but refrain from commenting on what your teenager orders or on how healthy a meal you have ordered.
Buy your teenager coupons for fast-food spots where smart choices are available. Stick the coupons in an envelope with a list of the best selections the restaurant has to offer for healthy eating. Translate “healthy eating” to “calorie-saving” for weight conscious teenagers. You’ll never know what choices your teenager will actually make, but it’s worth a try.
- Refrain from commenting on a teenager’s weight; he or she is already well aware of any weight issues. Offering appropriate food choices communicates the right message; making comments about the need for weight gain (or loss) does not.