Nutrition and Teens: A Guide for Parents

Young women's version of this guide
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Son helping father to prepareFamily members play an important role in helping teens to become healthier. It’s much easier to cook, shop, and prepare tasty and nutritious meals and snacks when everyone is working toward the same goals.

Here are some nutrition and wellness tips for you and your family:

  • Be a good role model. Teens are influenced by what they see, so it is important for family members to follow a healthy lifestyle. If the entire family is active and eating well, teens are likely to follow. Begin modeling healthy behaviors as early as possible.
  • Keep healthy foods in the house. If nutritious foods are available, your family is likely to make healthier choices. Stock the kitchen cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer with nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products (yogurt, cheese, and milk), lean proten (chicken, fish, tofu, and beans), healthy fats (hummus, nuts, and seeds), and whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat cereal, and whole grain bread). Consider having a bowl of fresh fruit on the kitchen table and place healthy snacks in the front of your refrigerator and pantry. Try to keep the foods as close as possible to “whole foods” with only a couple of ingredients rather than processed foods which can be less nutritious.
  • Grocery shop together. Plan a trip to the grocery store with your teen. Start by making a list of the foods you will need to buy. This will help keep you on track when you are at the store. Be sure to include items for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, and treats. Choose foods from all the food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, dietary fat, and dairy). This way, your family will have all the ingredients for healthy eating.
  • Cook and eat meals together. Learning how to cook is an important life lesson. Involve your teen with preparing meals. Use healthy ways to prepare foods such as baking, grilling, or steaming instead of frying. Try your best to make eating meals together a priority. Eating together may be challenging because of family members busy schedules and commitments, which may occur during meal times. Talking and connecting with your teen is an important part of family time and it will also help slow down the pace of the meal to prevent overeating. If scheduling requires eating at different times, try to at least sit with your teen while he’s eating.
  • Eat healthy portion sizes. People often eat all the food on their plate regardless of level of hunger. Provide a range of foods including protein, whole grains, and vegetables. Try serving a well-balanced plate that is about ½ fruit or vegetables (not including corn or potatoes), ¼ protein, and ¼ grain, (pasta, rice, corn, or bread for example). If your teen is still hungry, then he can have an additional serving of the nutritious foods provided.
  • Eat at home most of the time. Fast food is higher in saturated fat, salt, and calories than most meals prepared at home. Also, portion sizes at fast food and other restaurants are usually too large, and can lead to weight gain. Limiting eating out will improve your health and the health of your teen.
  • Watch for hidden calories in drinks. Drinks such as juice, regular soda, and sports drinks are high in calories but are not very nutritious or filling which is why they are often called “empty” calories. Drink mostly water or buy sugar-free beverages such as Fruit20®, Crystal Light®, seltzer, and diet soda. Drinking high-fat or flavored milk also adds excess calories, so choose low-fat plain milk (skim or 1%).
  • Have treats in moderation. Following a diet that is too strict can be dangerous and isn’t successful for long term weight control. Healthy eating involves balancing nutritious foods with treats in moderation. Having treats in the house can be very tempting for some people, so talk to your teen about what feels comfortable to them. It may be better for your family to go out for treats, or buy them in single serving packages.
  • Make small behavior changes. Permanent changes in health happen with small steps, not with strict dieting. Focus on making concrete small changes, such as drinking less regular soda and juice, eating more fruits and vegetables, or eating less fast food. Making small changes as a family can lead to great health benefits.
  • Pay attention. If your teen is making healthier choices, make sure to applaud the effort. However, if your teen is skipping meals, no longer interested in foods that he previously liked, restricting entire food groups, and seems preoccupied with losing weight, he may be at risk for an eating disorder. Pay attention to your teen’s attitudes towards food and seek help from his medical provider if you think that he might be attempting to lose weight in an unhealthy way.
  • Select healthy snacks and meals. Help your teen select healthy snacks for after school and meals when eating away from home. Buy healthy portable backpack snacks (such as a piece of fruit, a granola bar, or trail mix) so your teen won’t be tempted to buy chips or a candy bar at the convenience store after school.