Nutrition for Teens: 7 Ways to Keep Them Healthy Away from Home
A parent could give their child all the produce in the garden and they may still eat junk when they’re away from home. For teenagers, access to unhealthy food, busier social schedules and peer pressure can all make eating healthy a challenge.
By teaching teens the value of good nutrition, you can increase the odds of them reaching for an apple instead of a candy bar when they’re out. Here are a few practices you can start today to ensure your teens maintain healthy eating habits anywhere, anytime.
1. Set a good example.
The more at-home family meals, the better a teen’s health. According to an American Academy of Pediatrics review article, children and teens who often share meals with family are more likely to eat healthier foods and maintain a healthy weight. So try serving healthy family dinners at least three times a week.
When life gets hectic, shared breakfasts and weekend lunches offer the same benefits. Family togetherness at mealtime instills values in your child around healthy eating they’ll carry with them wherever they go.
2. Teach them to make smart fast-food choices.
When your teen goes out with his or her friends, they want to fit in. When the gang ends up at a fast food joint, make sure your teen knows to choose what’s best for his or her body.
For example, choosing a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a bacon cheeseburger, or a small order of fries instead of the super-size are both steps in the right direction.
Also, encourage your kids to drink an adequate amount of water. These days, it’s cool to carry a water bottle so make sure kids use it when they’re eating out.
3. Give them options at school.
As kids enter high school, they can eat from the vending machine instead of the school cafeteria if they want to. In some cases, the school cafeteria isn’t much better, with sandwiches often containing processed cheese and mystery meat, hot dogs and even fast food.
If you purchase cafeteria meals for your child, stress the importance of healthy choices whenever possible. For example, encourage them to choose salads, fruits and vegetables and lean protein over pizza and hot dogs.
It’s important for you as a parent to also study the weekly menu. If the school serves McDonald’s or mystery cheese steak one day, arm your child with a brown bag lunch and/or snacks. Again, it’s about making smart choices in less-than-ideal situations.
4. Send them to school with a healthy lunch and/or snacks.
In some environments, it’s not cool to bring your lunch. And an insulated lunchbox? That’s often a big no, too.
Even if your teen complains, encourage your child to take some healthy food to school. If you can get away with it, pack a lunchbox. Possible ingredients include a sandwich on whole grain bread, yogurt, apples, baby carrots and dip and string cheese.
If the lunchbox is a no-go, try non-perishable items such as a PB&J sandwich, whole grain pretzels, almonds, an apple or even a well-balanced protein bar. If your teen has a few healthy snacks on hand, he or she is less likely to raid the vending machine.
5. Get them involved in meals.
When you recruit your kids to help grocery shop, cook and meal prep, they’re more likely to think about healthy options. Let them help plant a garden or prepare dinner. As they get older, encourage them pack their own lunch. You might be surprised by the good choices they make.
6. Explain the need for “high octane” fuel.
Many middle school and high school students participate in one or more sports. Among other benefits, sports programs provide a great opportunity for teens to learn about the benefits of eating quality food.
It only takes a bout of nausea or an upset stomach or two for a teenager to learn they feel better competing after a protein shake than a fatty fast-food meal. With good gas in the tank, they’ll have more energy at practice and finish the game strong.
7. Ditch the sugary drinks
On average, 59% of Malaysians consume sugar and sweetened condensed milk per day, which would affect their children’s sugar intake according to the Malaysian Adult Nutrition Surveys (MANS).
Help reduce your kids’ sugar consumption by keeping soda and fruit juice out of the house. Encourage your kids to drink plain water, milk, and sports drinks when appropriate.
If your teen thinks water is boring, jazz it up with cucumber, lemon, lime, melon or just a splash of fruit juice. Your teen may still drink a soda at school, but you’ll help reduce the overall sugar load.
As parents, we can’t control everything our growing child eats. But by establishing a healthy foundation, we can give them the tools to make healthy choices now and well into adulthood.