Teenagers and Healthy Eating: The Challenge

teenage girl with tiaraThis is the first in a series on teenage nutrition and eating habits. How can we guide adolescents toward healthy and practical food choices?

One day my teenage son was visiting my sister-in-law, who has small children. My sister-in-law offered lunch to my son. She told me later that he “inhaled” the food!

Larger quantities are only the start. Teenage eating habits can make the picky and irregular habits of toddlers seem like child’s play.

In the first part of the series I’d like to address the many reasons that feeding teens and making sure they get nutritious meals is a challenge.

Also see Part II: 10 Tips for Steering Teens to Healthy Food Choices


Challenges of Teenage Nutrition and Eating Habits

  1. Fads and fashions. My teenage daughter has become a vegetarian. She makes good food choices. But sometimes adolescents latch onto fad diets that compromise their health.
  2. Peer pressure. At this age, children need to fit in more than ever. If everyone else is eating a burger, they’ll get one too.
  3. Dieting and Appearance. Teenagers care intensely about their looks. While this may encourage them to exercise and watch their weight, they might be willing to take shortcuts to get there with extreme dieting.
  4. Obesity. During adolescence, weight issues may begin or exacerbate.
  5. Emotions. Overactive hormones lead to emotional ups and downs, which can affect appetites and eating habits.
  6. Schedules. Who is busier than a teen? When mealtimes roll around, they are either out of the house or asleep. My teens have been known to scrounge for a meal well after midnight.
  7. Exercise. Many teens are into bodybuilding, gymnastics or other sports that burn calories. These sports may also require extra calcium or protein. Long-term health has to considered here as well.
  8. Independence. Teens are nearly adults, and don’t want to be told what to do. Sometimes we get frustrated because their eating choices interfere with our menus, shopping plans, schedules, and budgets. This leads to power struggles, which may be taking place around other issues as well.
  9. Quantities. As I mentioned in the introduction, growing children can eat much more than we imagined.   Dealing with the sheer amounts of food. Finding the refrigerator empty one day, and full of leftovers the next, is enough to drive any home chef insane.

Readers, I have a few ideas about how to address these challenges. But I’d like to hear more from you for my next post. Even if you don’t have teens, you probably know a few and have been one yourself.

How can we guide teens toward nutritious eating without harming our relationship?

: image PinkStock Photos!

You may also enjoy:

Review of Kosher by Design for Teens and Twenty-Somethings

Ten Kid-Friendly Foods Incorporating Leftovers

Help for Picky Eaters


  1. aviva_hadas says

    I am only the mother of a two almost three year old boy. Growing up, I only had 1 sister (I added that because the dynamics of food choices are probably greater with larger families. You can afford more than one main course, when you are feeding 8 instead of 4.) & in our family, the kitchen was not a restaurant. We ate what we were served or we did without.
    I am not sure how my experiences will shape how I feed my son, but so far, what my husband & I eat, my son is served. (My son doesn’t like chicken, but he eats all of his vegetables & as much challah as I allow him to have. As a result, I only serve my son a tiny amount of chicken to limit any waste. I do not make him an egg instead…)
    My MIL had different feeding strategies than my parents – my husband still sneaks food as a consequence. This makes menu planning rather tricky.

    • aviva_hadas,
      It sounds like you have a good system. And I sympathize with the differences between you and your husband.

  2. LOL – I think you covered anything, very accurately!

    Do you ever have potluck? (In our house that’s when we have to figure out our own supper from leftovers, first come first serve.)

  3. My teen boys buy their own lunches in Teaneck. So they can choose pizza, bagel or cheap Chinese. I encourage them, if they are sniffling at all (they never get enough sleep, either), to get some soup. I have no control over what goes in the soup, but it’s got to be better than eating a pizza slice when you have a stuffed nose.

    When they are home, we almost always have soup.

  4. You rightly pointed out, in the age of computer games and gadgets. Kids usually do not go out.
    No issues at this age but surely can be a worry when they grow up…

  5. The great thing when I was a teenager is no matter how much I ate I didn’t get fat. I am glad I don’t have to practice self discipline before. It is great to learn these tips though, I have teenagers of my own and maybe they are not as lucky as I was. This is a great way to understand what they may have been going through.

    • Thanks so much Kimberly for your reply. I think some teens get used to being able to eat what they want, and don’t stop when they outgrow the need. Good luck with raising your teens.

  6. There is rarely a time we don’t have some kind of leftovers in the fridge. On a night that I know one kid or the other doesn’t like the main dish, they are allowed to rummage and grab a different main dish. We almost always have side salads with dinner and a veggie which has to be eaten. Again, if it’s not a veggie they like I keep carrot sticks handy as their second choice.

    I never allowed my kids to be picky eaters growing up and it’s served us well now that they are inching closer to adults.