If you’re a parent of teenage children, you know that they are inclined to eat junk. Fast food, processed food, sugary food, salty food, fatty food–all the stuff we know is bad for them and bad for all of us. It’s not cool to eat healthy, especially for teenage boys. Many working parents don’t have time to prepare meals and teens often come home from school or sports and fix anything they can find in the house. How can you get them on board with healthy eating?
- Start early. If you’re reading this, it’s probably too late. But in the off chance you are preparing for your teen’s diet years in advance, you can start them on healthy foods when they are younger and still developing tastes. Talk about why you’re giving them what you are serving. Talk to them about dangers of too much sugar, salt, and fat. By all means, brainwash them. If you don’t, the TV commercials for the bad stuff will.
- Show them the facts. Most fast food websites and menus now show the calories of their food. Without judgment, explain to them that weight gain happens when you consume more calories than you burn throughout the day. One burger might have 1,000 calories, another might have 500. No one wants to gain weight. Armed with this information, they can discreetly make healthier choices when they are out with their friends. Eating less junk food isn’t as good as eating no junk food, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- Be a role model. If you’re in the habit of grabbing fast food or processed food because you’re pressed for time, consider making a change. Teens may not admit it, but most of them enjoy a home cooked meal. It’s comforting. Allow them to invite their friends.
- Use better ingredients. Kids like things like chicken wings, tacos, burgers, and fries, right? Slip organic chicken in there, with a low sodium and low fat sauce that still has the tang they want. Use grass fed meat for burgers and tacos, and sweet potato fries are loaded with potassium. Just use oil with unsaturated fat and go easy on the salt.
- Give them a healthy breakfast every day. Easier said than done, of course, but most teens leave the house in the nick of time to get to school on time and either have a bowl of sugary cereal or something packaged from the microwave. Then they are starved by lunch time and binge on junk food. Giving them a real breakfast of healthy food, with time to eat it slowly, can make a big different in their craving later on in the day.
- Get them involved. Teens don’t like to be told what to do. They don’t like to be told to eat healthy. They don’t like to be presented with food they didn’t choose. They will be more open to eating healthy if they are involved in the decision-making and preparation of meals. Tell them at the beginning of the day what you are planning for dinner. Give them some options. This gives you more control over what ends up on the table and in their bodies.
Teens can be frustrating, especially when it comes to food. They will admire the fit bodies of athletes and celebrities, but make no effort to emulate the nutrition and fitness parts of their lifestyles. One day they will tell you they want to get in shape and the next day they’ll sleep all day. Be patient and positive, and celebrate small victories.