If you're a parent of teenagers, you know that their eating habits are more often than not pretty unhealthy. However, the teen years are crucial for building muscle, boosting bone health, getting sufficient vitamins and maintaining good overall health. You may have to get creative, but you can combat the decidedly unhealthy eating habits of teens with a few tweaks, swaps and tricks.
Your teen may resist it, but she's probably hungry at breakfast and certainly needs a good start to the day. Skip the fruity, sugar-filled pastries and frozen stuff. Instead, give her a protein- and whole grain-packed breakfast. Offer her an egg on wheat toast with a heart-healthy olive oil spread and a large cup of blueberries if she's watching calories. She could also have an egg-white omelet with a small bowl of oatmeal and a piece of fruit. For an extra-filling breakfast with few calories, try a big bowl of grits. Don't forget cereals -- shop together and help your teen choose a high-fiber, low-sugar cereal to pair with two percent milk and sliced strawberries.
The Right Nutrients
Teens tend to dislike or avoid nutrients they need for proper growth. Instead of force-feeding them the iron that both males and females crucially need, get creative. Bake a veggie casserole -- with low-fat cream of mushroom soup, fresh green vegetables and a sprinkling of French onion sticks, your teens won't even notice they're eating right. For much-needed calcium, keep fat-free frozen yogurt on hand for dessert. If you don't say it's not ice cream, they may not notice. Don't forget Vitamin C -- peel an orange and place the slices on a plate for your teens to munch on while watching TV.
Once teens leave for school, you can only hope they choose healthy snacks. If you don't have time to prepare snacks ahead of time, encourage teens to choose baked chips or real fruit snacks from the vending machine. At home, pair apple slices with a tablespoon of peanut butter for a punch of protein. For ravenous teen boys, cheeseburger or chicken sliders make excellent snacks. Make these baby sandwiches ahead of time and freeze them so they'll be ready at a moment's notice. Stock up on fresh baby carrots, cucumber and celery with light dressing for dipping.
Keeping it Balanced
Picky teenagers tend to eat the same things over and over. That's not bad if it's fruit salad, but a french fry diet will quickly derail their overall health. When you feed your teens, check that the meal is balanced. They need protein, carbohydrates, whole grains and greens at every meal. Go with a four-ounce piece of chicken or lean beef over whole wheat pasta mixed with sauteed broccoli to meet all four needs. Or, toss an extra-lean burger on a whole wheat bun and serve with a large side salad. Don't forget about skewers -- grilled chunks of lean meat and veggies on a stick are easy to eat and can be paired with a light or fat-free dip for extra flavor. Add a baked sweet potato or a side of couscous for a filling finish.
Kate Bradley began writing professionally in 2007. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies and a minor in German from Berry College in Rome, Ga; TEFL/TESOL certification from ITC International in Prague; and a Master of Arts in integrated global communication from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga.