Not all diet plans for teens are safe, and some can even be dangerous for a growing adolescent. Healthy eating for teenagers may seem unimportant, and the media often tells young people that their metabolism will save them. So, how can you encourage teens to eat for optimal health?
Read on for a foolproof plan, including three steps to start and a list of healthy food for teenagers.
Healthy Eating for Teenagers
With teenagers, everything is fast-paced. That often includes fast food, too. In fact, about 1 in every 3 teens consumes fast food on a given day.
While fast food isn’t exactly “evil,” it’s generally not the best source of nutrition for a growing body. However, parents struggle to balance well-cooked meals with work, school, and a never-ending list of extracurriculars.
Knowing more about the challenges teens face when it comes to healthy eating can help make you aware of how to present healthier options to your aging adolescent.
Common Unhealthy Eating Habits For Teens
Influenced by friends, family, and even the media, teens can pick up bad eating habits as they grow. Some common habits that can turn into unhealthy lifestyle choices include:
• Dining out excessively instead of enjoying regular homemade, healthy meals with family
• Drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages
• Skipping meals (especially breakfast)
• Subsisting on hyper-processed food
Addressing Key Barriers
Helping to empower teens to change their diet first starts with addressing barriers at home and in their other environments (i.e. school, social). Common key barriers to healthy eating for young adults include:
• Food insecurity or lack of preparation facilities/equipment
• Lack of food-related knowledge or skills (i.e. meal planning, shopping, cooking)
• Lack of motivation to eat healthy
• Social pressure
• Unhealthy diet of friends or family
• Widespread presence of unhealthy options
Teaching teens affordable, accessible ways to consume their nutrients can be a crucial turning point. Healthy habits developed as a teen can encourage healthy habits as an adult.
Healthy Food for Teenagers
As a teen, it can be tempting to get your vitamins and minerals from supplements that promise weight loss or more muscle as an added side effect. However, the best form of nutrition for teens still comes straight from food.
In other words, as long as teens can consume a healthy and varied diet, there’s generally no need for multivitamins or supplements. If you suspect a deficiency in a certain vitamin, meet with your doctor or dietitian for diagnosis and next steps.
If you are simply interested in making your teen’s diet healthier, the following foods are a great place to start. Offer more nutrients to your teens with these simple additions.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and veggies are always a great way to get your vitamins. Whole fruits are generally preferred, but if you have a picky teen you can try 100% fruit juice (just avoid added sugars). Another popular option is pairing apples and peanut butter together.
The simple step of preparing vegetables (i.e. chopping up a cucumber) may help. Having grab-and-go veggies and dip, such as carrots and hummus, may mean your teen is more likely to eat them.
Healthy fats are key to helping teens have normal hormone function as well as normal body function in general. Instead of consuming foods high in saturated fats, include nutrient-rich healthy fats.
Nuts and seeds, such as in a homemade trail mix, are great lunchbox additions. They even make an excellent on-the-go breakfast, especially when paired with a protein-rich source.
Calcium-Rich & Protein Foods
Eating a variety of foods from different food groups that provide calcium and protein is extra important in the teenage years. As an adolescent, your body builds bone and muscle as it grows.
Calcium, in particular, helps bones grow and develop properly. Foods like cheese, milk, and Greek yogurt provide plenty of calcium.
Protein also helps your body develop properly by prompting muscles and organs to grow. Foods with protein can also help your body to repair and recover in the case of infection, illness, or injury.
Other foods that contribute calcium and/or protein to the diet include:
• Eggs (hard-boiled eggs make a great on-the-go snack)
• Lean meat (i.e. ground beef, poultry)
• Nuts and seeds (including nut and seed butters)
Whole Grains & Iron-Rich Foods
While meats are often heralded for adding iron to the diet, whole grains are also a good source . Look for whole grain bread that contains a good amount of iron, or search for fortified grains or cereal that have iron added in. Whole grain pasta, brown rice, or trendy ancient grains like quinoa can also help add protein and fiber to the teen diet.
Did you know plain popcorn actually counts as a whole grain? Find ways to make whole grains fun! Popcorn is an easy snack that also provides plenty of fiber.
3 Steps to Create a Diet Plan for Teens
Getting your teen to eat healthy may seem like an impossible mission. While it may require innovative thinking and creative solutions, you can make healthy eating work for your teen and your family.
One study found that digital technology introduces an exciting element to eating healthy for teens. Teens can even find healthy recipes on social media platforms like TikTok, says another study.
If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to helping your adolescent eat healthy, ask them to download the MyPlate App. This can encourage them to make healthy choices even when you aren’t around by helping them track progress, earn badges, and ultimately make positive changes.
Not so tech-savvy? Here are three steps to kicking off a healthy diet plan for teenagers.
1. Start the Day Off Right With a Healthy Breakfast
Breakfast may be the most important meal, but not according to 20-30% of teens. Skipping meals may seem like an efficient way for teens to save time and lose weight, but missed meals are actually linked to low-quality diets. Brain function, attendance, grades, and even sports performance can improve when you make sure you don’t miss the morning meal.
Parents are a major influence when it comes to supporting healthy breakfast habits. Keep healthy breakfast options, including grab-and-go items like fresh fruit or granola bars, accessible to your teen. Keep the benefits in mind:
• Healthy weight maintenance
• Improve metabolism
• Improved mood
• Improved performance
• Increased energy
2. Focus on Balance Instead of Restriction
Instead of labeling foods “off limits,” focus on what you can add more of to the plate. For example:
• Fruits and vegetables
• Lean meat/protein
• Whole grains
Don’t forget to include healthy snacks in your diet to curb cravings for less healthy options. Remember, teens are at a crucial developmental phase of life, and that includes physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Unlike adults, who often have their sights fixated on the number of pounds they can lose, teens should be encouraged to maintain a healthy weight. The teen years should not be about counting calories, but rather developing healthy eating habits that help them thrive into adulthood.
Unsure of how many total calories your teen needs? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a great guide to get you started.
3. Support a Healthy Diet With Healthy Habits
Altering eating habits alone won’t make for optimal health. Enhance eating habits by encouraging other healthy habits, like the following:
• Drinking enough water
• Eating dinner together as a family
• Enjoyable exercise or physical activity for ~60 minutes a day
• Getting enough sleep
• Limiting television time or “screen time”
Optional: Consider a Meal Delivery Service
Not all meal delivery services are created equal, or even designed for teens. It’s important to look into the details of potential options to make sure your teen’s nutrient needs are being met. If it works for your family, a meal delivery service can assist your family in providing many of the above mentioned healthy foods for your teen and help you get rid of mealtime boredom.
While bistroMD isn’t teen-specific, it does provide a healthy, convenient solution for families on the go. Since it is a meal plan service targeted toward weight loss, it’s important to check with your healthcare team before starting. Ultimately, it can be a good choice for your teen as long as growth and activity levels are supported.
The Final Word On Healthy Eating For Teens
Teens live in a fast-paced world, but that doesn’t mean sitting down and enjoying a family meal is out of the question. You can help your teen learn healthy habits as they grow.
Start today by providing healthy options for breakfast, learning how to offer a variety of foods for improved nutrient quality, and modeling healthy behaviors—like getting enough sleep or exercise—in the home.
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