In Teenagers and Healthy Eating: The Challenge, I laid out some of the difficulties teens face when it comes to eating right. Today I give 10 tips for painlessly guiding teenagers toward healthy food choices.
- Set an example. Even when it seems like they aren’t paying attention, or doing the opposite of everything you say, your teens are watching. Pay attention to your eating habits attitude. Are you always snacking, complaining about your weight, or obsessing over calories? You can be open about your struggles, but only up to a point. Try to save the rest for when your teens aren’t around. Parents’ eating habits are the number one influence on their kids adult habits, so think long-term.
- Eat meals as a family. I know this is easier said than done, but make a point of eating together at least several times a week.
- Educate. Explain to your kids about your food choices. Why is steaming better than frying? What makes a balanced meal? What vitamins and minerals are important? In small doses, let them know the short and long-term effects of unhealthy eating.
- Get teens involved. Teenagers are old enough to be responsible for planning a menu or cooking a whole meal or dish. If you haven’t cooked with them until now, it’s not too late to start. Talk about choosing recipes, estimating quantities, and cooking techniques. Take them to the store and show them how to compare prices and choose produce.
- Respect their preferences. Teens can surprise you in their willingness to try new things. But don’t try to talk them out of their choices–work with them to find the healthiest alternatives within the limitations they set.
- Influence their friends when you can. Teens may worry that their friends will make fun of them for eating healthy foods. Make your house a fun place to hang out, where (mostly) healthy food is served. My teens have even brought their friends into the kitchen to cook. When your child is asked to bring food for a party, suggest something homemade—the friends may even be impressed.
- Keep healthy foods available, both cooked and uncooked. If you wait until your teen is hungry to start cooking, it’s too late. Teens often eat whatever is in sight, although they may complain. I’ve learned that the more vegetables I serve, the more gets eaten.
- Encourage kids to take food from home instead of buying fast food. A stylish insulated bag can help, along with setting spending limits that allow some choice.
- Know your limitations. Make it clear to your teens how far you are willing to do in terms of shopping, food preparation, budget, and menu choices. Becoming a martyr to your kids’ food whims never helps.
- Know when to intervene. If you suspect that your teen has an eating disorder, speak about it with a professional and bring the child for treatment as necessary.
Do you use any of these techniques? How do you steer your kids toward healthier eating?
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