Convincing your teen to stop eating things like fried chicken, fast-food burgers, and oily fries might seem like the one argument you don’t want to have. But letting your teen develop unhealthy eating habits by refusing to add variety into their diet is a surefire way to health problems later in life. And the improper education can lead anxiety about food and serious eating disorders. So, while it’s easier to let your teen keep their habits, it behooves good parents to teach healthy eating before any serious harm, even if the teen is especially defiant. Here, we provide you with five tips for expanding your teen’s palette, developing an interest in food, and setting them on the path towards healthy eating.
Invest in Health
While it is more expensive, taking your teen to “fancy” restaurants is a quick way to introduce them to new foods. There will be few or no “kid” options on the menu, and there will be a slight social pressure to order something more fitting for an adult, such as fish, steak, or a restaurant’s special.
Your teen won’t want to be embarrassed at the table—especially in front of other adults—so they’ll ditch their normal fare for something more sophisticated. After a few times, your teen may even discover a new dish that they enjoy, and you can find your own recipe to prepare at home. Likely these dishes provide a more balanced distribution of all the essential vitamins, minerals, and proteins your teen needs to stay healthy. And, once you can cook them at home, it all becomes cheaper!
Make Nutrition a Daily Task
It’s incredibly easy to go online and find appropriate nutritional information for your teen. Simply search their age, height, and weight, and you’ll find resources to give them a healthy and balanced diet. It’s not a bad idea to print out this sheet and post it somewhere clearly visible in the house (perhaps the fridge!) for your teen to see. Since it has to do with their wellbeing, they’ll most likely react more kindly to a nutrition sheet than a chore chart.
It’s also easy to avoid making your teen feel singled out. Printing nutrition sheets for yourself and other members of your family turns nutrition into a group effort. You can even help each other keep track of your nutritional goals by turning health into a game. The person who matches their chart most closely each week wins! You can incentivize this with a prize—perhaps the winner can choose dinner once a week. This kind of motivation may jump start your teen’s interest in new foods and teach them the importance of dietary health.
Let Your Teen Do the Work
The most hands-off way to get your teen to eat healthy is to make them self-motivated. If your teen finds it important to get the right amounts of protein, calcium, and other essential vitamins on their own, they’ll likely find a way to do so. You may be able to get your teen motivated by pinpointing how a healthy diet will help them succeed at goals they’re already working towards. For an athlete, it’s a simple matter of, “you are what you eat.” If you eat well, you perform well. If you eat poorly, you perform poorly. Eating the right foods can help in other areas as well by increasing memory, reducing stress, and leading to more restful sleep. This approach may show your teen the importance of a good diet while also relaxing the workload you face as a parent.
Talk to the Pros
Nutritionists and dieticians are invaluable resources when it comes to your teen’s diet. You may not understand your teen’s aversion to certain foods. It might be the taste, color, or consistency that puts them off. But, odds are, a professional can set things straight. A nutritionist can help you identify the reasons behind your teen’s habits, which will give you further insight on how to help. Also, allowing your teen to hear advice from a professional may hit them harder than a lecture from their parents. It could turn their mindset from something like, “Mom says I have to,” into, “This is important.”
Read the Literature
There is a wealth of magazines and journals brimming with nutrition advice. Publications like Sunset Magazine and Bon Appetite provide articles on healthy living as well as recipes for nutritious and balanced meals. Going through these with your teen might be a great way to find new dishes you both agree on. One step further, you might try cooking something together! This could show your teen the work that goes behind a meal, which could increase their appreciation for a wider variety of foods. It’s also a great way to incorporate quality time with teen into your life while also being a constructive parent. And, if your teen develops a knack for cooking, less work for you!
Piece of Cake
Improving your teen’s diet doesn’t have to be hard. Instead of focusing on what your teen can’t eat, try introducing them to the myriad of foods they’re missing out on! Good food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and we think this advice will help spur your teen in the right direction. Who knows, you may even find a future chef in your midst!
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.