Teens are not known for their balanced eating habits. If anything, they are more known for their horrible eating habits. Pizza for breakfast, late night binges on junk food and a sad lack of vegetables all cause a great nutritional void. Poor nutrition can often contribute to negative behaviors, so this is an issue that is worth addressing. Yet, how can you address your teen’s eating without making a battle out of it?
Keep the Home Food Environment Healthy
While it is true that your teen is probably going to choose junk when eating on the go, you still have control over the home food environment. If all you have in your home is healthy food options, like fruit, veggies and yogurt, your kid will have no choice but to eat healthy when he is hungry at home. Unless he has a drivers license and plans to drive to McDonald’s every time he is hungry, and has the cash to do so, he will have to choose to eat what you buy.
You can also make subtle changes to foods your family already likes. For instance, you can swap out white rice for brown or plain pasta for whole-wheat pasta in your family’s regular meals. If you make these changes a few at a time, your teen may not even notice.
Stick with Family Meals
Studies have shown again and again that family meals are the key to keeping kids healthy, even in their teens. Teens who eat family dinners frequently are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, including eating disorders. Also, when eating dinner as a family, you can encourage good eating by modeling it yourself. If you ask your teen to eat a salad, but you refuse to, they are going to resent the request.
Have Open Conversations
Make sure your teen knows why eating healthy is important. However, when you have this conversation, you need to be careful. Body image issues are rampant at this age, and your teen needs to know that she is loved no matter how big or small she is. You need to speak in a positive way about how food affects the health of the body, focusing on all aspects of health, not just weight.
Do Not Over Stress
Yes, nutrition is important, but remember that it is life long dietary patterns that make the biggest impact on health. Occasional negative changes are not going to have as big of an impact on your teen’s lifetime. If your teen simply will not make healthy eating decisions right now, it may not be worth destroying your relationship by forcing the issue. Provide healthy options, model right eating behaviors, offer enough family meals and have open conversations about food, and eventually your teen should come around.
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