Talking to kids about nutrition is pretty easy when they’re younger. They might not readily eat the peas you put on their plate, but you have much more control over what they eat. So, you at least know vegetables make it onto their plate.
But as your children grow, you will have less control over what they eat. And that’s a good thing! They must learn how to find healthy, filling foods before they have to live completely independent of their parents.
Knowing this fact, however, doesn’t make the task any easier. Most teenagers have heard the speeches about avoiding excess weight gain or extreme weight loss, as well as avoiding unhealthy food.
But few of these speeches actually address teenagers’ concerns or their growing need for independence.
Touching on these issues when you talk to your teen increases the chances that they’ll listen and that they’ll act on what you’ve said.
Here are a few tips for discussing the importance of healthy eating with teenagers:
1. Don’t Make It About Weight
The first snag most parents hit is that they focus on how unhealthy eating habits can lead to weight gain. Most teenagers are already insecure about their bodies.
And, for some, weight gain is going to happen even if they eat healthy and exercise regularly. Each human body is built differently.
So putting an emphasis on weight builds a sense of shame into healthy versus unhealthy foods. This, over time, damages your child’s overall relationship with food.
That’s a surefire way to create negative eating habits throughout their lifetime. These habits might be as small as liking chocolate too much or as aggressive as an eating disorder.
Instead of their weight, focus on the health benefits of a balanced diet. Zero in on the energy boost they’ll feel, the stomach troubles they’ll avoid, and the decreased risk of diseases later in life.
All of these are reasons that won’t shame your teenager, while still emphasizing a need for good nutrition.
2. Emphasize Your Teen’s Independence
Teenagers, as a general rule, crave independence. They might not want to move out and pay their own bills – and who can blame them – but they do want to figure things out on their own.
It can be hard for parents to step back and let this happen. If not you, then at least one of your friends certainly had parents who refused to let their kids find that independence they so craved.
You might have even known people whose parents took it as an affront when their children wanted to exert their own will or make their own decisions in even mundane matters.
But this unwillingness to let teenagers make some of their own choices can horribly backfire. When it comes to food, it’s another path to a bad relationship with food. In the long run, it’s far better to give your kids a little independence now, while you’re still there to guide them.
An easy first step is to have a snack drawer stocked with healthy options. Your teenager will have the choice of taking what they want, and they will have to tell you when the drawer is empty or getting low. Then, when the drawer needs a refill, your teen has to help with the food prep or shopping.
This not only teaches your teenager to monitor their own food intake, but to prepare their own healthy food as well. The independence comes in choosing when and what to eat.
As time goes on, you can let them choose what goes in the drawer. When they are old enough, they can even drive to the grocery store and purchase the supplies themselves.
You can also involve your teen in a conversation about healthy food by getting them to help you make dinner. This might not be possible every night, given the homework load most teenagers come home with.
But on the weekends or on one set night a week, have them in the kitchen with you. They’ll pick up good kitchen habits and might even learn healthy recipes without any active effort other than working alongside you.
3. Make a Plan for On-the-Go
The truth of the teenage years is that it’s a middle ground between childhood and adulthood. Just as adults don’t always have the option of eating at home whenever they like, teenagers are often on the go.
That can make it even harder to influence what they eat.
Convenience snacks are cheap and tasty, which is a hard combination for just about anyone to pass up. But teens have a harder time of it, likely because most are less worried about the bottom line of their bank account (or their waistline).
While your children should be aware of the money they’re spending, they should also have options available to take on the go. The snack drawer mentioned earlier is a good way to combat this issue. But you’ll also want to talk to your child about healthier on-the-go options than a fast food drive-thru.
Take a stroll in the premade or deli section of your grocery store the next time you’re out shopping. Point out some healthy options to your child and listen to the feedback they give you.
Together, the two of you can work out a good plan for the next time your teen needs to eat on the run.
This is also a good chance to talk to them about soda alternatives. Carbonated drinks are almost a staple of adolescence and have been from roughly the 1950s.
But each glass is a sugar bomb that doesn’t do much else for your child’s palate or health. Looking over healthier options at the grocery store – like natural teas or real fruit juices – is a great way to help them avoid the habit, as is talking to them about the real facts about soda.
Healthier on-the-go foods are not an everyday solution, of course. But it is better than letting your kids rely on junk food in a pinch!
Your teenager has heard about healthy eating their whole life. And if you’ve been proactive about it before now, then you know they have a good foundation to build on.
Your kid is smart enough to know that potato chips aren’t a vegetable and ketchup is not a fruit!
So now, your focus needs to be on the way the reality of your teen’s daily schedule affects their ability to prioritize healthy eating. Don’t fall into the usual trap of assuming your child has no stress. You know first-hand how bad high school can be and how much time it takes up.
Take this chance to show your child that you care not only about their nutrition, but their overall wellbeing. When you take their time constraints and stresses into account, they’ll know that you’re really seeing them.
Not only will they be more likely to listen to you, but they will know they can trust you. And that is paramount in any teenager’s life.