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Really?! Teen Food Choices & How to Help

teen food choices

Don’t you just love how independent teens become? Doing their own homework and projects, driving themselves to sports practices, and putting themselves to bed…I know I enjoy this independence in my own teens, but truth be told, sometimes their independence concerns and frustrates me.

Especially when it comes to teen food choices.

How to Help Teens Make Healthy Food Choices

One thing I realized a long time ago about teens is this: To make a good decision, I believe they need to understand the rationale behind optimal food choices and how it relates to how they feel on a daily basis.

Are they tired all the time? Is their skin breaking out? Hair limp? Having trouble focusing in the classroom? Moody?

I believe understanding how food makes the teen feel helps them make healthy food choices while building their motivation to eat well.

The Athlete

Food is fuel for the athlete and this is how it should ideally be viewed. When athletes see it like this, it changes the way they think about food. A chicken breast is a protein source, supplying a key nutrient for exercise recovery and a building block for muscle.

A whole grain bagel becomes a slow-digesting carbohydrate, which will keep an athlete fueled during exercise for a longer period of time. An order of French fries becomes an indulgence of fat and calories which need to be evaluated against the rest of the day’s food intake—is there room for it? Is it a game changer for better or worse?

{read: Why Young Athletes Need Breakfast}

Hungry After School

Your teen comes home from school and you’re not there. She raids the pantry and eats all the chips and cookies. Not a healthy morsel has entered her mouth. You’re frustrated, but the truth is you’ve never set boundaries about what an acceptable after-school snack is and you’ve never said what it isn’t.

You see, understanding the WHY behind making good food choices is essential before your teen will buy in on the healthy eating concept. Setting boundaries is essential too, if only to give them the rationale behind why you do {and say} what you do {and say}.

Talking About Food Choices

Here are a few examples of what you can say—words that are more meaningful than just a simple “that’s bad for you,” or “that’s healthy!”

For After-School Snacks

“Pick a healthy after school snack. A grain (whole wheat pita or popcorn), or fruit served with a source of protein (cheese, peanut butter) will quell your hunger and stick with you longer than a sugary box of cookies or a bag of chips.”

“You’re going to football practice and you need to choose carbs to eat, like a bagel or banana, so your muscles are ready for exercise.”

For Lunch

“Don’t skip lunch. Lunch helps keep your blood sugar even. Remember what it feels like to have a low blood sugar? You get tired, your brain is foggy and you feel cranky. Eating lunch helps prevent that!”

“Try to pick a fruit or vegetable at lunchtime (or even both!). It will help you meet your daily requirements, and it takes the pressure off of getting them in at dinnertime.”

For Breakfast

“Skipping breakfast is not a healthy practice. Did you know that breakfast skippers tend to eat more later on than breakfast eaters? You’ll have an easier time keeping your hunger in check and your appetite predictable if you eat a breakfast each day.”

For Sweets

“It’s okay to have sweets. They taste good! But always keep in mind, they don’t offer nutrients, and they do potentially offer extra calories. Think about how you can balance sweets with the rest of your diet. And, when you eat them, slow down and ENJOY!”

For Late Night Eating

“Are you really hungry? If so, have a piece of fruit, or some dry cereal. If you’re not really hungry, why don’t you make a cup of tea?”

Obviously, there are lots of different responses you could have to a variety of eating situations with your teen. The point is to keep the conversation going and use these times to share perspective and knowledge about nutrition without being too stern or strict about teen food choices.

{read: The #1 Nutrition Mistake with Teens}

Remember, teens are still growing in their knowledge!

Click Here to Grab 85 Healthy Snacks for the Teen 

What do you notice about teen food choices? 

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  1. Hi…my grandson is 13 years old. He had a texture issue when a
    toddler. Now this is what he will eat and NOTHING else. No
    fruit, no vegetables, no meat. He lives on sweet cereals, cheese
    pizza and quesadillas, pizza snacks, pasta alfredo, French fires and lots of ketchup on everything and devours sweets (no nuts). He drinks Carnation Instant breakfast in the a.m. and takes a gummy bear type vitamin. He looks pale and is poor at sports…hardly can do basketball with all the running. He is an A student and doesn’t
    make friends well. He mostly spends his free time on Play Station
    and IPad. Isn’t fond of outdoor anything. I am so WORRIED!

    1. Hi Judy, you must be worried! Sounds like his texture issue may have gone untreated? If he’s motivated and has a support system at home, you may want to meet with a childhood nutritionist/feeding therapist. Sounds like my course, The Kids Healthy Weight Project might be of help as well (www.jillcastle.com/courses)