Tips for Managing Nutrition through the Teen Years

As a mom of teens, I know how frustrating it can be after you’ve spent so much time and energy instilling healthy eating habits in your kids only to see them morph into human “garbage cans” come their teen years.  Don’t get me wrong–my kids still like veggies and when I’m preparing meals they will eat healthy, but put them into a group of their peers and they become the typical teens, which means common sense when it comes to nutrition flies right out the window.

I think it’s part of that whole gaining independence, growing up thing kids go through during their teen years.  Even though you’ve given them a good foundation for a healthy diet, they still have to explore and yes, copy what their peers are doing to some degree, before they settle on their own diet.

I find that the teen years come with different kinds of nutrition challenges, depending on your teen–here are a few common ones:

  • The Junk Food Junkie: A lot of kids fall into this category.  Consuming empty calories or foods laden with high fat and sodium content are the norm.  Many times it’s due to their fast paced lifestyle–they’re running from school to practice and then on the weekends they’re socializing or have extracurricular activities.  It’s easy for them to grab something on the run, which is fine, but they need to learn to make healthy choices.  Many fast food restaurants are now offering healthy alternatives and your teen should be opting for these at least half the time.  Even though his metabolism might not show all those calories and fat he’s consuming right now, that won’t always be the case and it’s best to develop good eating habits now.
  • The Extreme Dieter: Mainly teen girls fall into this category.  Skipping meals or eating miniscule portions to lose weight are the strategies used (unsuccessfully) here.  What ends up happening is these teens may lose some weight for a short period of time, but then many times end up putting it back on as soon as they start eating normally again.  While they are “dieting” they feel tired and irritable and have trouble focusing on school from lack of energy since they are missing out on many needed nutrients.  A better strategy is for your teen to increase her activity while adding more fruits and veggies to her diet, which naturally cuts down on calories and increases fiber, which will keep her feeling full.
  • The Fad Dieter: Again, teens are exploring their individuality and their diet is one way for them to express this.  There are a lot of different diets out there–gluten-free, low-carb, raw food, etc.  It’s important to be aware of what they’re eating to make sure they’re getting all the nutrition they need.  This might be a time when your teen decides that he or she wants to become a vegetarian, which can be a very healthy lifestyle.  Before you dismiss it, make sure you get all the facts and understand how you can support this decision.

Like everything else during the teen years, most of this too will pass.  The key is to get through this period so that you’re allowing them the right to make decisions about their diet, but still gently pointing them in the right (healthy) direction!

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