Establishing Healthy Eating Habits for Teens

Family Eating BreakfastMarch is National Nutrition Month, so it’s a great time to take stock of our family’s eating habits. About one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese. Eating out, large portion sizes and junk food are all major culprits. An overweight child has a 70 to 80 percent chance of staying overweight as an adult. So, it’s important to establish good habits at home now. Explain what makes up a well-balanced, nutritious, and healthy diet. Talk to your teen about how the foods they choose to eat can affect his or her health, appearance and energy level.

The experts from National Nutrition Month say, “There’s no one diet that is right for everyone, so it’s important to follow a healthful eating plan that’s packed with tasty foods and that keeps your unique lifestyle in mind.” So, instead of trying to find the “perfect” diet for your family, focus on just a few healthy eating ideas:

Eat regularly through the day. According to the American Dietetic Association, more than half of male teens and more than two-thirds of female teens do not eat breakfast on a regular basis. Skipping meals actually makes your body over-eat later in the day. Teens often think that if they skip a meal, then they’re going to lose weight, but the truth is that regular meals help control weight, mood and ability to concentrate. Encourage teens to eat three meals and two snacks a day, and if they’re concerned about weight, teach them to monitor the amount they eat at each sitting.

Listen to your body. So many people don’t pay attention to their body’s natural cues. To maintain health, we should eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. The American culture is a fast-paced one that often doesn’t encourage enjoyment of a meal. Let your teen know that it takes their body 20 minutes from the time they start eating to register that they are full. By slowing down when we eat, we tend to stop overeating. And, encourage your teen to only eat when they feel hungry – so many teens eat when they are bored or eat mindlessly as they are playing video games or watching TV.

Eat foods from all of the food groups. All foods can be part of healthy eating, when eaten in moderation. Everyone needs grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy proteins, and healthy fats each day to meet their nutritional needs.

Limit sweets and high-fat foods. Teens tend to eat too much food that is high in fat, sugar and calories. The main culprits are soda, junk food, and fast food restaurants.

Prioritize family meals. Research indicates that eating meals together as a family provides many benefits to teens:

  • Healthier meals and improved nutrition.
  • Better grades and academic success.
  • Less tension in the home and better family unity.
  • Less behavior problems at home and school.
  • Decreased chance of being overweight.
  • Less likely to use drugs.

With that impressive list of benefits, it’s worth making the time and effort to enjoy more family meal times each week. Start slow by adding only one more family meal to the schedule. If your schedule is hectic, remember that the meal you add doesn’t have to be a dinner – it could be a weekend breakfast or lunch. For more specific information about family meals benefits and tips, read our previous blog: Reasons You Should Eat Meals with Your Teen.

Final Thoughts…

Your teen is closely observing your lifestyle, eating habits, and attitudes about issues like appearance and weight, even if it doesn’t seem like it, so you must be a good role model. Do not try to lose or gain weight dramatically or use fad diets, but rather work towards a healthy weight by eating a well-balanced, nutritious, and healthy diet. “Everything in moderation” is a far more positive message to share with your children than messages about food exclusion and restrictive dieting. Do not use food as rewards or punishment, or as a way to manage your emotions.

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