Teens love spending time with friends. Whether hanging out a friend’s house, the mall, the park, or the coffee shop, teens eat many meals and snacks away from home. By talking to your teens about healthy eating principles, you can help them choose foods and beverages that will keep them feeling lively and energetic, rather than tired and run down. Here are some of the most common social environments your teen will encounter, and some helpful suggestions for making healthy choices in any of them.
The Coffee Shop – According to a recent survey, of teen’s shopping habits, food sales have topped clothing sales for the first time in the last 27 years. It may be no surprise that the restaurant topping that list is Starbucks. Teens love to get their coffee drinks these days, and it’s no wonder. Sugary syrup, chocolate chunks, and whip cream hide every last trace of coffee’s natural bitterness. Coffee stands are now popping up at high schools to try and tap into the trend. Ordering a coffee drink feels very mature and “cool” to a teen. Let your teen feel like an adult by visiting a coffee shop, but teach them how to order a coffee drink that also supports their health. Ordering a beverage made with non-fat or low fat milk, only one pump of syrup, or no whip, will have them feeling very grown up! Many coffee shops also offer fresh fruit and lower fat snack items for them to enjoy. Show your teen where to find the nutrition facts brochure and how to read it, so that they can show maturity by making an educated choice about what they choose to put in their bodies.
The Mall – What could be more fun than hanging around, shopping, and socializing with friends at the mall? Shopping at the mall can teach kids financial responsibility, socially acceptable behavior, and with a little guidance, how to eat responsibly. Healthy choices are around, but again, need to be sought out. Their senses will be bombarded with the smell of cinnamon rolls, sugar coated pretzels, and colorful candy shops. While all of those choices can fit into a healthy diet, they must be balanced out with healthier foods. In the food court, amongst the pizza and fast food, you can find light healthy Asian dishes, salads, soups, and sandwiches. Encourage your children to share a meal with friends, as portions are usually extremely large. Choosing water or milk instead of empty calorie sodas also opens up more of their calorie budget to spend on food items. Check out these hidden calorie-bombs in the food court with your teen.
Sporting Events – Interestingly, sporting events promote exercise and healthy living, but often contradict this message by selling highly processed calorie-dense foods. This can cause confusion over which lifestyle choice is more important, physical fitness or healthy eating. If possible, get involved and try to change the choices they offer at your children’s sporting events to eliminate this feeling of having to choose one or the other. While we know that concession stands are not known for healthy options, there are some choices that are better than others. Try to teach your child that soda is not really a beverage but a sugary dessert. If they choose soda, then they should pass on the candy and choose peanuts or a hot dog. If they get water, then they can add a licorice rope or other small treat. Try to teach them to eat before attending such events so that they are not eating an entire meal from a concession stand. Many concession stands offer sunflower seeds or popcorn, which are better nutritionally than chips or candy.
Parties – Birthdays, hanging out with friends, and end of sports-season gatherings can all lead to the consumption of large quantities of unhealthy foods. Try to help your teen remember to eat a balanced meal before attending such events. Share with them the MyPlate guidelines so that they have an idea of how their plate should look for optimal health. If the party offerings include fruits and vegetables, have them plate and eat those first to help promote fullness and keep them satisfied with less of the other party food. If they are having pizza, remind them to enjoy it with their favorite vegetable toppings. If the only offerings are pepperoni pizza and soda, remind them to balance this meal out with their other meals throughout the day. It’s okay to splurge when most of your choices are healthful ones.
Use these tips to support your teen as they transition into becoming an adult. In addition to the ideas above, make sure to eat family meals whenever possible. Not only does this give you the opportunity to talk to your teen, but also to model healthy eating behaviors. Research has shown that family meals increase the intake of fruits and vegetables and decrease the intake of soda and salty snacks, like chips. Being too controlling or restrictive with your teen’s eating has been shown to be detrimental to teens by decreasing their abilities to self regulate. It is important that you approach this subject with love and support rather than guilt and shame. Help them notice how their bodies feel when they don’t make the best choices. Adolescents are not concerned about how their eating will affect them later in life like adults; keep it focused on how they feel now. Don’t label foods as good or bad, but rather nutritious or not. Help them to recognize their hunger, cravings, and food preferences. Emphasize adding in healthy foods rather than restricting and eliminating food choices. You will be surprised how much more willing they are to learn when they feel supported and capable in your eyes. For more information on encouraging healthy behaviors during the school year, read Helping Your Teen Maintain Healthy Habits During the School Year!