March is National Nutrition Month. As a parent of young children, you may have heard that it’s your job to serve healthy food and your child’s job to decide what to eat. Feeding your teens can bring up new challenges, though. You are no longer their only source of food, and they expect to have more say in family eating decisions. So how can you provide good nutrition for teens?
Teen eating habits
Surveys have found that teens have some eating habits that are different from the habits of children and adults.
- Teens often get a lot of their calories from fat and sugar. In fact, the CDC reports that kids get 40% of their calories on average from these sources. Major contributes include soda, fruit drinks, pizza, desserts, and whole milk.
- They often have nutritional deficiencies, including vitamin A, folic acid, fiber, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc.
- Kids in general do not drink the recommended amount of water. Teens don’t eat the amount of fruit or vegetables they need.
- They’re influenced by their social circle. They eat more junk food and drink more sodas if their friends do the same — whether they see it in person or on social media.
- Teenagers’ eating habits are also influenced by what their parents eat…more than by rules their parents make.
Improving nutrition for teens
This year’s focus for National Nutrition Month is personalizing your plate! Here are some ways to encourage healthier eating habits for teens by empowering that personalization.
- Get kids involved in cooking and in planning meals.
- Teens often find exotic foods appealing. Bring Mediterranean, Latin, Asian, or Middle Eastern foods into your meals.
- Share family recipes that reflect your cultural heritage. Teens often find this intriguing.
- Plant and work in a garden together. This provides healthy outdoor exercise as well as more fresh produce.
- Plan your home environment to encourage healthier eating. Choose fewer highly processed or sugary foods at the grocery store. Keep hard-boiled eggs, cut up fruits and veggies, and whole grain crackers where they’ll be seen, and be easy to choose.
- Active teens may need snacks between meals. Let snack time center on healthy foods. Make guacamole or hummus together. Enjoy nuts or popcorn instead of chips.
- Encourage kids to stay physically active.