Support Healthy Eating in Teenage Years
One day, we have happy, energetic kids who are ready to take on the world with sidewalk chalk and stuffed animals. The next, we have beings that eat all our food, want to huddle in their bedrooms with devices stuck in their ears, and roll their eyes at everything we say. What happens?
The teenage years are tough (on everyone). And feeding teenagers can feel almost impossible. Here are some tips, though, to keep your teenager’s body healthy which, in turn, might help with everything else.
- Beware of diet fads. Teens are especially vulnerable to new diet trends they pick up from magazine racks and friends. I knew a friend’s daughter who once went on a tomato soup diet. Beware of disordered eating, look for the signs, and sit down and talk with your teens about their bodies and body-positive behaviors.
- Social media beware! Teens are bombarded, daily, by social media influencers and so much negative, downright bad, information. It’s hard to counter all this misinformation with parental advice. A great way to steer teenagers in the right direction would be to provide them with accurate information from body positive influencers – talk to them in a language they understand. The Self Love Project, Serena Williams, and Not Plant Based are just a few Instagram accounts that promote positive body behavior and ideas.
- Iron, calcium, folic acid and protein … oh my! Teens have those famous growth spurts and need a variety of nutrients to keep them healthy and strong.
- Iron is important for both boys and girls, though girls more after they begin menstruating. Good sources of iron include meat, fish, poultry, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.
- Calcium and vitamin D are essential for bone health. Low-fat milk, dairy foods, dark green vegetables, fortified juices and cereals are all great sources.
- Protein is essential for everyone. Proteins help maintain, repair, and rebuild healthy muscle and bone. The amount needed depends on a teen’s height and weight, activity level, and gender. On average, teenage boys need approximately 52 grams of protein each day, while girls need 46 grams. What does that look like? A 3 oz. chicken breast, piece of meat, or fish has about 20 grams of protein – almost half of what teenagers need. It’s not hard to get enough! The key is focusing on lean meats. Other sources of complete proteins are eggs, milk, soybeans and quinoa. Try experimenting with vegetable-based proteins to change things up!
- Beware of the lure of fast foods! The teenage years are notorious for kids falling into the fast food, soda trap. One fast food meal (a double cheeseburger, French fries, and a milkshake) is laden with sugar, sodium, hydrogenated fats, chemicals, and can have up to 2000 calories – all the calories needed in one day. Giving teens some simple tips to choose better food when going out – even when hitting some of those greasy-spoon joints – will help them stay healthier. Choose baked items over fried; avoid creamy dressings and bacon bits on salads; say “no” to supersizing; opt for water. Certainly we all go out for a favorite fast food treat once in a while. It shouldn’t be the norm.
- Make healthy eating a priority. Pack a healthy lunch the night before to avoid the “don’t have time” excuse. Make sure everybody is sitting down to eat a good breakfast. Taking time to eat as a family is the best way to model healthy eating behavior. So much is out of our control. Teenagers spend more time out of the house than in the house. Having a meal a day, together, is a great way to connect with our teens and get a gauge on eating habits.
Healthy eating habits don’t just “happen.” They are taught and learned from the time we’re born. Carrying those eating habits throughout the teenage years can be challenging, but with a solid base, teens will make good choices and be healthier!