Healthful eating for teens
The teenaged years are a time of increased independence and responsibility — and that includes making decisions about what to eat. Good eating habits are especially important during this time, as physical changes associated with puberty affect your child’s nutritional needs.
By the numbers
A Growing Up Today study looked at the eating habits, activities and lifestyles of 16,800 girls and boys in the United States for the last 15 years. Over this time:
- 20% of the girls have become overweight or obese
- 50% or more of the adolescent females were trying to lose weight
Some of the challenges teens may face when it comes to eating healthily include:
- Teens tend to eat more meals away from home than younger children.
- They are also often heavily influenced by their peers and their peers’ choices.
- Meal convenience is important to many teens.
- Both boys and girls may feel pressure from peers to be thin and to limit what they eat.
- Both boys and girls may diet to "make weight" for a particular sporting or social event.
These are among the reasons why many adolescents are eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods, such as soft drinks, fast food and processed foods.
Here are some things you can do to help:
- Arrange for teens to find out about nutrition for themselves by providing teen-oriented magazines or books with food articles and by encouraging them and supporting their interest in health, cooking or nutrition.
- Take their suggestions, when possible, regarding foods to prepare at home.
- Experiment with foods from different cultures.
- Have several nutritious snack foods readily available. Teens will often eat whatever is convenient.
- If there are foods that you do not want your teens to eat, avoid bringing them into the home.
- Encourage your teen to have breakfast each morning, even if it’s something quick, such as yogurt and granola.
Of course, healthful eating habits needn’t apply just to teenagers. The following are suggestions for how to maintain healthy eating for life.
- Eat three meals a day, with healthful snacks.
- Increase fiber in the diet and decrease the use of salt.
- Drink a lot of water.
- Eat balanced meals.
- Try to bake or broil instead of fry.
- Eat fruit or vegetables for a snack.
- For children over 5, use low-fat dairy products.
- Decrease the use of butter and heavy gravies.
- Eat more chicken and fish.