When a child reaches puberty, his body begins growing and changing incredibly fast. Many teens can grow several inches and gain twenty or more pounds over the period of just a couple years. To fuel this rapid development, many teens develop voracious appetites. Parents and grandparents are frequently astonished at how quickly the pantry supplies are depleted after a grocery shopping trip. Sometimes, what is intended to last a week is inhaled over the course of just a few days.
With obesity on the rise in children, preteens, teenagers, and adults, those who shop for groceries are right to be concerned with the eating habits of their kids. Because teens and preteens seldom want to eat the best, most nutritious food items, it takes plenty of diligence, patience, and good humor to encourage kids to make healthier food choices. Grandparents need to be open with teens about how important healthy food is to the way that young people feel, look, and grow.
Here are six tips to encourage preteens and teens to eat good food.
1. Talk to teens about what is in the food that they eat.
Encourage teens to read the labels on the food packages that they eat. Talk to them about how their bodies will handle the nutritional components of their food. Don’t condemn any food group as “bad,” (For example, all carbs are bad, or all fat is bad.) but rather, encourage moderation with all of their food choices. Remind them that their bodies need protein to build strong muscles, non-refined carbohydrates for long-lasting energy, and healthy fats to increase satiety and fuel brain development. Vegetables will help them feel fuller longer, and dairy products provide calcium to build strong, healthy bones. Don’t let teens and preteens “drink their calories” by offering sugary soft drinks and artificially flavored fruit punches. Rather, offer plenty of milk and water and a limited supply of fruit juices, preferably with pulp.
2. Encourage balance at every meal and snack.
If you’ve ever marveled at how a teenage boy can inhale an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting and still be ravenous, you are not alone. However, when you think about what is in that bag, it’s not surprising that a teen would still be hungry after eating nothing but empty carbs. Encourage teens, both boys and girls, to include different components of nutrition every time they sit down to eat. Instead of simply offering white-flour snack crackers after school, give the teen a chunk of real cheese or a nut butter to eat on whole wheat crackers, accompanied by a tall glass of milk. The protein and fat in the milk, nuts, and cheese will help the teen feel satisfied on less volume of food.
3. Find ways to slow down their eating.
Dieticians have said for years that eating too quickly can lead to overeating. Low-nutrition foods like snack cakes, cheese puffs, and french fries are easy to consume quickly, leading to overeating. Encourage kids to slow down by offering these snacks:
- Nuts in the shells–Cracking pecans, almonds, peanuts, or walnuts slows kids down and helps them be satisfied with less. Many teens enjoy the rhythm of shelling nuts as they eat them.
- Veggies with dips–A child who won’t touch a cooked veggie will be much more likely to eat them raw with dip. Offer snacks of bell pepper slices,cucumbers, baby carrots, and broccoli to encourage kids to fill up on high fiber vegetables.
- Sit with kids and talk–Instead of allowing teens to sit in front of the television or computer to nosh, sit at the table and chat with them, making each meal and snack an opportunity to connect.
4. Stock up on the good stuff, and don’t replenish the “treats” right away.
Have a stash of healthy treats available that require no preparation. A fridge containing boiled eggs, cheese sticks, pre-cut veggies, and pre-washed fruits will encourage teens to reach for a healthy choice when they are waiting for dinner or have just come in from school.
Also, there’s nothing wrong with having a few “less-healthy” treats on hand, like ice cream bars or chips, but let the teen know that once those items are gone, you won’t be buying more for a week or two. This encourages the kids to stretch their treats over a week rather than consuming it all at once.
5. Allow teens with siblings to “name their food.”
Teens with siblings may feel that they must “compete” to get the “good snacks,” or their brother or sister will eat it all first. In other words, some teens may feel that to get their “fair share” of the ice cream bars, they have to eat three the first day before their siblings eat them all.
While it seems selfish on the surface, allowing each teen to “claim” their own snacks can keep them from bingeing the first day after you come home from the grocery store. Each teen is assured that they will have their favorite snacks available when they are ready to eat them.
6. Allow some junk from time to time.
Allowing teens to have some junk food from time to time can keep them from craving the “forbidden fruit” and bingeing on candy and soda when they are out of the house. When you have “pizza night,” offer a side salad full of crunchy raw veggies. Bake homemade brownies from time to time and allow them a small “junk food” indulgence each day. Remember that it won’t be long before your teens and preteens will be on their own, so you should allow them some freedom in choosing their food.
Keep in mind, though, that these tips are appropriate for normal, healthy teens. If your grandchild deals with food allergies, intolerances, is over or underweight, has diabetes or some other health issue, be sure that you follow what their doctor or dietitian recommends to help them stay healthy.