Tips To Help Teens Tune Up Their Diets

As a mother of two teenagers, I’m well aware of the many things that parents need to keep in mind when it comes to their children’s health. Adding more to parents’ already full plates is not my intent. Instead, my goal is teaching teens to begin a reasonable amount of self-care that includes paying attention to nutrition. After all, I’m not in control of everything they put in their mouths anymore! Teaching my children to take care of their own health as they get older is part of my job.

Let’s face it, diet-related health concerns like heart disease, obesity and type-2 diabetes are no longer just adult issues. There is substantial scientific evidence that heart health in middle age is strongly predicted by various measures of cardiovascular health in childhood and adolescence. A recent study that used data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2005-2010) showed that less than 50% of the teens exhibited ideal cardiovascular health components like healthy diet, adequate physical activity and appropriate cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In fact, the healthy diet score was the least prevalent among the group, with 80% of the teens being classified as having a poor diet score. Wow. Clearly, there is work to do here. So, let’s get down to some practical ways to help your teens tune up their diets…

Creamy Hummus
Make this simple Creamy Hummus as a healthy option for teens to snack on.

Make healthy food easily accessible.

Yes, we know you purchase most of the food in the house, and that it IS in fact available. Yet, how many times has your teen opened a full fridge and declared “there’s nothing to eat in here.” Aaargh! The trick is to make healthy food convenient and easy to reach for. People are busy (including teens) and when they are hungry they want something QUICK. Also, sometimes teens are eating meals on their own due to sports or after school jobs, so having foods that they could combine for a healthful (though somewhat make-shift) meal is a good idea. Choosemyplate.gov has lots of tip sheets available, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Single-serve containers of yogurt, cottage-cheese, or fruit (packed in juice)
  • A bowl of prepped, fresh veggies in the fridge is handy for everyone (pack different veggies in baggies if you like)
  • Hummus, nut butters
  • Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter for anytime eating (wash it first)
  • Fixings for a quick smoothie (the same basic ingredients as listed above)
  • Hard boiled eggs and fresh eggs (my son likes to make his own omelets and scrambles using leftover meat and veggies)
  • String cheese or other individually-wrapped lower-fat cheese
  • Whole-grain cereals, crackers and breads
  • Trail mix (it’s helpful to pre-measure it into snack-size baggies for portion control)
  • Healthy homemade versions of teen favorites like snack bars and muffins

 

Nix the soda and juice at home.

If you don’t buy it, it won’t be there for your child to consume. True, they can get these things outside the house, but helping them make better choices starts at home, right? Sugar calories from soda are extra calories that come with no nutrition, so just say no (of course, that means you need to forego it as well in order to be a good role model). Encourage whole fruit, not fruit juice. Keep a pitcher of water in the fridge—there is something about it that makes it more special—and therefore more likely to be consumed—than water from the tap. (For ideas on “enhancing” water, check my previous post on the subject.) If bubbles are what they want, try out some various flavors of seltzer.

Embrace the “almost anything” breakfast.

Kids need breakfast—for energy, to enhance overall nutrition status (no breakfast means a lost opportunity for nutrients), and to help them stay full until lunchtime (a growling stomach is a distraction). While younger children tend to eat breakfast more frequently, breakfast eating drops off as kids get older. If your teen doesn’t purchase breakfast at school, then they should be getting something to eat at home before they fly out the door. So what’s the best breakfast? The one your teen will actually eat. That means, as long as it’s reasonably nutritious, it’s fair game for the morning meal. Does it really matter if you child wants leftover enchiladas, a sandwich or reheated chicken parm for breakfast? Nope. Loosen the reins a bit. Oh, and make friends with the smoothie (and make sure you have a good blender)! Teens like smoothies and they are an easy way to get fruit, a little dairy and some protein all in one quick, tasty and portable package. Finally, if you have a variety of handy, nutritious snacks available (see tip #1), they can always patch together something quickly because you know they won’t be getting up earlier just to eat a morning meal.

 

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