Adolescent eating habits are influenced by many factors every day, so how can we steer them toward healthy behaviors?
Nutrition plays a significant role during adolescence due to the many factors. Rapid physical growth, hormonal fluctuations, and developmental changes taking place in the body are only a few. It’s our job to guide our teens to make the right choices to meet their nutrient and energy needs. This will help them form good eating habits to take with them as they embark on their journey towards adulthood! Here are a few tips to lead them on the right path.
Establishing a regular meal pattern starts with breakfast. This is easier said than done when dealing with teenagers who like to sleep late and grab something quick on their way out the door (if anything at all). One study showed that adolescent girls with irregular breakfast and lunch intake consumed a higher percentage of calories from snacks, drank less milk, and ate fewer vegetables and whole wheat bread. They also consumed more soft drinks and sweets compared with girls who had regular meal patterns. (1) Another study looking at youth and adolescent breakfast patterns saw that those who skipped breakfast had higher waist circumference, BMI, and prevalence of obesity in comparison to children/adolescents who consumed some form of breakfast. (2) Try getting your teen in a breakfast routine for at least a few days a week, and work up to at least the five weekdays. Teenage years are all about meeting your child halfway.
Limit screen time.
We can’t control every aspect of our teenagers’ lives, but we can set rules that steer them away from their screens. Why is this so important? The media is full of unrealistic images of males and females, online social platforms have become a constant image contest, and food commercials often promote unhealthy, processed snack options targeted at children and teenagers. As you can guess, these aren’t constructive things for your teen to focus on and can lead to poor adolescent eating habits.
Watching TV for long hours has been associated with overweight and obesity due to decreased physical activity and increased unhealthy snacking. Less screen time means fewer negative influences and more time to form better habits. Use this as the perfect opportunity to get your teen to help in the kitchen a few nights a week instead of scrolling through social media!
Highlight portion control and avoid food restriction.
Taking an “all foods fit” approach helps emphasize healthy choices and portion control instead of restriction. Restricting food with adolescents may negatively impact their dietary intake and body composition. (3, 4) Have healthy options available for snacks and meals in appropriate portions such as 2 Tablespoons of hummus with vegetables, 1 ounce of nuts and seeds, 1 ounce of cheese with crackers, or ½ a cup of nonfat Greek yogurt with fruit.
It is also helpful to teach your teen to view sweet snacks as “sometimes” foods (instead of “never” foods). Use it as an opportunity to show them proper portions and tasty nutrient-dense foods to control their hunger. (5) If you are too strict with limiting certain foods, it may make them want certain foods even more!
Be a role model to improve adolescent eating habits.
Help your adolescent adopt healthy eating habits and an overall healthy lifestyle by being a role model and providing balanced family meals. It’s not always so easy with teenagers who have a lot of after-school commitments or when you have a hectic work schedule. However, it can have a significant impact on healthy behaviors down the road. Research shows that families who shared meals most days of the week consumed more servings of fruits and vegetables (for kids, this continued into adulthood). (6) Adolescents who ate more frequent family meals were also less likely to start engaging in disordered eating behaviors. (7)
Let them be teens.
At the end of the day, your teens are just that… teenagers! You should let them ride this phase out (with some guidance and monitoring of course). Teens are going through a unique part of life and want to have a sense of control over their surroundings. The best you can do is to help guide your teen towards an overall healthy lifestyle, provide tools to carry for a lifetime.