+ Well Nourished | Raising Healthy Teens - 4 Practical Tips

Raising Healthy Eating Teens – 4 Practical Tips

As a child becomes a teenager, their bodies are changing enormously and good nutrition is critical to support their growth and development.  However, this is also the time when many teens begin to exert their ‘free will’ and make their own choices.  Unfortunately, when it comes to choosing what to eat, they are often heavily influenced by their peers and clever junk food advertising, so poor food choices can prevail.

Many health conscious parents find it really tough to deal with their formerly healthy teens sudden penchant for processed food.  So I thought I’d share a few suggestions for encouraging teens to make food choices to nourish their rapidly developing bodies and support ongoing good health.

1) Set the standard
Even though they are becoming more autonomous, it is still up to parents to set the standard and fill the pantry with healthy choices. When you are preparing their foods, prepare the foods you want them to eat. Make extras of their favourite meals so there are always leftovers for them to grab when they are hungry the next day. Bag nut mixes, cut up veggie sticks, boil up some eggs and have them ready in containers to eat when they are hungry.

2) Family meals matter
Research has confirmed that teens that eat at a table with their family (as opposed to alone or in front of the TV) fare better nutritionally, socially and also psychologically. Make every effort to eat at least one meal a day together as a family. Such a simple thing can have a profound effect on their long-term health and wellbeing.

3) Pick your battles
You can control the food you buy and the food you prepare at home but try to avoid power struggles over the foods they choose to eat otherwise. Teens know they shouldn’t do many things, but they do anyway. Nagging and berating them to eat better will only create animosity.  Trust you have laid enough of a foundation for them to learn that eating rubbish makes them feel awful. This phase will pass and they will come around eventually.

3) Out market the junk food companies
Drop subtle hints, like you don’t really care, but you thought you let them know anyway. I do this with my kids all of the time.  If for example I read about a successful sports person relating their healthy eating habits to their success in their sport, I always pass it onto my (sport loving, competitive) kids.  My vain daughter always pricks her ears up to beautiful, successful women’s health tips. The trick is to market to their own individual ‘sweet spot’ – the thing that matters to them.  It might be achieving better grades, helping clear their acne or improving their sports performance. Whatever it is; subtle, regular hints that they can relate to, can work wonders.

4) Call on a friend
Seriously – what do you know? I apparent know and understand NOTHING according to my pre-pubescent daughter. So you need to find that person that knows more than you do.  It might be a friends parent, uncle, grandparent or a professional.  When I was consulting, I saw so many teens who were just so compliant (for me) in changing their unhealthy ways (often to the amazement of their parents). I always built a rapport with them and they respected my advice enough to follow it. Recently my sporty daughter asked for a sports drink stating ‘all the professionals drink them.’  Luckily a close friend who is a talented professional AFL player clarified that they are paid to hold and even open the bottles of brightly coloured sports drinks, but he (and many of the other players) never, ever drank a drop.  Lesson learned, she now happily drinks water and coconut water to hydrate.

Many teens do go off-the-rails a little, but if in their younger years you’ve developed a healthy understanding and appreciation of real foods, they will come around.

I’d love to open a discussion here so that we can all learn and share our experiences. If you have (or have raised) teens, can you add to the above? Post a comment below.


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  • Jasmine

    Our family is about to head into this territory – my eldest is about to turn 12. He has just started going to a weekly youth group where there is an abundance of junk food. I always make sure he has a really nourishing (and filling) dinner before he goes. I have made an effort not to battle him about it. He was excited to be “cool” by having soft drink like everyone else there – we never have it at home. He did feel sick after his first night of “free” food choices. We had a chat and together decided that if he is going to have soft drink, ginger beer is probably a better choice than coke. Not ideal, but I’d rather he make the lesser of two evil choices than totally rebel. A couple of weeks ago we went to the drive-in movies as a family. Mr 12 begged for the latest Doritos because “everyone” has been brining them to school. I explained that they are not something I would buy, which he already knew. But I offered to let him help me find a suitable alternative at the supermarket. We found some spicy organic corn chips with no weird ingredients, which he initially rolled his eyes about, but once he tasted them he was really positive. I can’t wait to read tips from others’ experiences. This is a stage that makes me a little anxious.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one to receive ‘eye-rolls’ – ha ha! I agree it is so important to feed them up well before a junk free-for-all. Also critical to let them learn for themselves. Nothing like a sore belly to re-inforce healthy (or healthier) choices. Thanks so much for contributing G x

      • Alex

        I can’t tell how you much better it made me feel today just to hear all of you speaking of the ‘eye rolls’ from your teenagers! This has only recently become a regular fixture for my just turned 17-year-old son on all manner of topics! I was feeling a bit low about it as we used to be able to chat about things with mutual respect (now there’s not much coming back at me!) – but, thanks to you all, I see it with better perspective today! And, newly energised, I’m off to make some protein power bars and other healthy treats!

        • From what I’ve heard from friends with teen boys, this disconnect is very normal Alex. Hope he doesn’t eye roll at the protein per bars – lol. G x

  • Tina Herden

    My almost 17 year old loves healthy food and often post pictures of her creations (especially breakfast bowls) on social media. I love seeing the interest it generates amongst her friends

  • Judy

    Great advice. Thanks Georgia. Always a good reminder to choose the battles, get a role model’s opinion…..and that we all have to deal with lots of eye-rolling 🙂 Have a nice break. x

  • Nicole

    That is fantastic Tina.

  • Fiona

    Hi Geogia. Everything you say in your article makes sense and I have tried them all. I have a 13 yo (boy) and 16 yo (girl) and can honestly say it’s been a bit of hit n miss with them both wanting to stay healthy. I’m lucky with my 16 yo as her close friends around her tend to want to eat healthy and not purchase too much processed foods, which I have to say is a plus in this day and age. My son however is definitely in the category of going to Hungry Jacks with mates on weekends when they ‘hang out’ together and it is difficult to curb this habit. I do talk to him about how much ‘junk’ is in the food but he has it anyway. The way I figure it, I started the household to ‘clean eating’ this year and have not bought any processed foods since January. I make 1 or 2 batches of cookies each week for my son and partner (many recipes from your site), and also ensure we have a fridge full of fruit and vegetables to accommodate health fresh cooking throughout the week. The freezer is always full of my homemade iceblocks and icecreams (some made with kefir) so if they have friends over they can share them with friends. I heard my son say to his friends one day ‘mums got a heap of healthy stuff in the pantry and fridge but they are really nice – we don’t have junk food in the house’. It made me laugh but amazingly his friends enjoy all the variety of freshly made foods in the house. So I guess for me I see that as long as 95% of the time my kids are eating the right things from what I provide, then if they feel a need to go outside of that for the other 5% I consider that a good balance

    • Thanks Fiona. Great point re – food and peer pressure. I know I grew up with very healthy food but when I was a teenager Hungry Jacks was my group of friends favourite haunt. My mum used to stress so much about the crap I was eating (when she wasn’t in control) and she even nick-named me Georgia-junk-food for a while. But it didn’t take me long to come back to my roots and I only ever ate well at home. I love your sons comment – you are so right re the balance and I have every confidence he will come around too. Good job mama G x

  • Awesome to hear she is inspiring her friends Tina. An upside to social media when it can be used to promote health, good on her for becoming a role model G x

  • Tracey

    Thanks Georgia! As I have teenagers I often feel I am ‘past’ what you are talking about with fussy toddlers and kids etc, but enjoy reading your posts anyway! So I was very happy to see this one today. I think that teenagers have a hard time trying to constantly fit in with peers etc so an occassional junk food is just all part of that. None of us can be ‘good’ all the time or I find it leads to binge eating if anything is forfidden! Healthy eating at home will set them in good stead for the rest of their lives and this phase will pass. Once the acne etc kicks in is a good time to remind them that these foods will certainly not be helping that situation! Definitely trying this yummy recipe to fill up those hollow legs!!

    • Have had this post on my ‘to-do’ list for a long while so glad you enjoyed it. Yes, not looking forward to the teen years at all (my 11yr old has teen ‘attitude’ now, so I’m sure in for it with her). Many of my friends have teens and I have treated a lot of teens over the years – hope the protein bars go down well and thanks Tracey for your contribution. G x

  • Kirsten

    I am often despairing of my 17yr old’s choices. I wonder if this is more a ‘boy’ thing? My daughters (15 and 13) also want to eat junk but not to the extent that the boy does! All his friends do is hang out in Maccas or Hungry Jacks…. He is at the stage where he’ll often refuse to even eat dinner with us and as he has a part time job and spends his own money I have zero control over his food choices. It drives me MAD but I guess that is also his intention – the kids label my food as ‘hippy’ food although they seldom complain about it being not very nice! I keep telling myself to chill and trust that he will eventually revert to the healthy eating he has been exposed to all his life but I find it very hard.

    • I’m not quite at your stage, but I can fully appreciate your frustration (I know I would feel exactly the same too). I do firmly believe he will come around, I suppose this is all you can hope for. I have known a few teens who have had pivotal turning points (like breaking out in acne, wanting to perform better at school or sport) and this has bought them back to clean (er) eating habits. All the best G x

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