Less than 2% of adolescents consume sufficient fruits and veggies to maintain optimum health. And with both obesity and eating disorder problems in young people reaching epidemic proportions, it is important for parents to be proactive in helping teenagers develop healthy eating habits. A poor diet can result in poor physical health and development, lowered energy levels and mental sharpness, as well as stunted sexual development. But teenagers won’t develop good eating habits accidentally.
Ten ways to teach healthy eating habits.
The younger the age of your child when you begin establishing healthy eating habits, the less resistance you will receive from them. But even if you’ve come to the realization that your family needs to make some serious dietary changes after your kids are older, it is still possible to help teens establish healthy eating habits. Rather than making pronouncements or drastic changes, here are some ways you can enlist your teen’s cooperation in discovering healthy ways of eating.
- Begin by keeping track of your teen’s current eating habits. How often do they snack? What are their comfort foods? Write down what you observe so you have a clear place to start. Keep track of your own eating habits and compare yours to your child’s – this can be a real eye-opener! Here is a great resource from the USDA called “Choose My Plate” that you may find useful.
- Your teens will most often follow your lead when it comes to diet. Pay attention to your own habits. Are you eating fast food more than once a week? Do you drink alot of soda, struggle with weight issues, or keep lots of junk food on hand? Choose an attitude of discovery rather than resentful deprived dietary requirements!
- Engage your teen in menu planning. Planning ahead can mean the difference between stopping by a fast food place on the way home from work or being free to pull something healthy out of the freezer. Two great resources for healthy meal planning can be found at Elements of Wellness and Super Healthy Kids. The principle to practice is: less prepared foods, more whole foods.
- Go grocery shopping together. And take your shopping list with you! You’ll be less tempted to buy junk food when you’re checking healthy foods off your list. Try doing your grocery shopping just once a week after careful planning; you’re likely to notice that you spend less and eat more healthy almost immediately.
- Eating healthy doesn’t need to be an exercise in self-denial. Make sure you’re including fun foods, desserts, and the occasional eat-out experience. The key is to plan for it, rather than allowing the fun foods to take over your eating habits.
- If you have a picky eater, you’ll know just how challenging it is to help your teen create a balanced diet. Get creative! Don’t give in to power struggles over food; instead, only buy foods you don’t mind your child eating, then explore ways that they’ll try out new recipes or foods they haven’t tried before.
- If you’ve gotten into some unhealthy eating habits as a family, don’t try to change everything at once. But do start to change in the right direction. Choose just one unhealthy eating habit to begin with. For instance, if you realize your teen is snacking on chips and soda all afternoon, simply stop buying chips and substitute healthy snacks. The second step can be cutting back on the sugared drinks intake.
- Some very busy parents have begun simplifying their mealtimes by preparing healthy dishes in advance, then freezing small portions to thaw and eat later. This can be a marvelous way to stick with your healthy diet decisions while not feeling overwhelmed by time constraints.
- Some parents are great cooks, and some just plain aren’t! If cooking isn’t your talent, teach yourself how to prepare one healthy dish at a time. Choose a simple recipe using healthy ingredients, and invite your teen to help you.
- Keep the dialogue going! Ask your teenager to go online and find a recipe your family has never tried. Invite their help in meal preparation. Do a taste test experiment where you have them ‘grade’ two different recipes for which one they prefer. Plan a party with their friends and get creative on ways you can provide some healthy snacks.
No matter when you realize you’ve got to make some changes in order to help your teen establish healthy eating habits, there is hope for making those changes successfully. Get creative, enlist your teen’s cooperation, use the internet as a marvelous storehouse of information, and get started. If you get stuck, have a resistant teenager, or simply want a little help, send me a message and lets come up with some solutions together! Establishing healthy eating habits now with your teens means they’ll begin their adult life with a solid healthy foundation from which to build a great life!
What are some of the eating challenges you’ve faced with your teenager? Share one creative solution you tried!