Motivating Teens to Eat Healthy
With the start of a new year, many people are making resolutions, and the most common resolution is to eat healthier. This is a worthy goal!
About one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese, and sadly an overweight child has a 70 to 80 percent chance of staying overweight as an adult. As a result, it’s important to establish good nutrition habits for your children. While you certainly can’t control everything your teen eats, you can role model healthy eating, discuss what makes up a nutritious diet, and prepare healthy meals for your family. Here are some steps to take:
Discuss benefits of nutrition. Many people are completely unaware of how their diet impacts their overall wellbeing. Teens need to know that the foods they choose to eat can affect their health, appearance, mood, and energy level. A nutritious diet helps us think clearer, sleep better, have more energy, improve our immune system, have clearer skin, and improve our mental health. Most people are generally more motivated to make changes in their lifestyle if they perceive good benefits to them rather than fearing negative effects.
Avoid processed foods. By definition, a processed food is a food item that has had a series of chemical operations performed on it to change or preserve it. As a rule of thumb, processed foods typically come in a box or bag and contain more than one item on the list of ingredients, often with names that are difficult to pronounce. Processed foods are often loaded with sugar, fat, sodium and calories. The healthiest foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are not processed and have only one ingredient listed.
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.
Control portions. Eat smaller amounts. Lots of prepared meals give you way more than just one serving. In fact, sometimes one combo meal at a fast food restaurant will give you enough calories and fat for an entire day! Avoid supersized items. Consider cutting your meal in half and taking home the other half to eat another day.
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.
Drink water. Soda is a huge source of harmful chemicals and hidden calories. The average large soda packs around 300 calories, which can quickly gulp up a big portion of your daily calorie intake. Shakes are even worse, with up to 800 calories and a day’s worth of saturated fat. And don’t be fooled by lemonade and fruit drinks, which add calories and sugar without much in the way of nutrients. Drink water, low-fat white milk, or unsweetened tea instead.
Eat foods from all of the food groups. Most foods can be part of healthy eating, when eaten in moderation. Everyone needs grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, dairy, and healthy fats each day to meet their nutritional needs, so make sure you’re eating a wide variety of food instead of the same items every day.
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. These foods can lead to obesity, lethargy, brain fog, moodiness, and other poor health outcomes.
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.
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 use food as rewards or punishment, or as a way to manage your emotions. 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.