Teens love to dine on high-fat, inexpensive fast food. Meanwhile, their two primary activities – school and the consuming of various media – are sedentary. These factors have contributed to a teenage obesity epidemic. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health, almost one in five teenagers is considered obese. Being overweight isn’t just a matter of appearance, it can lead to significant health problems down the road. Avoiding vegetables completely isn’t an option; they're a vital part of a healthy diet. Helping your teen to develop healthy habits now is important.
Arm your teen with knowledge. Encourage him to create a profile on SuperTracker, the USDA’s online tool that generates a personal nutrition and physical activity plan. Help your child understand the connection between diet, exercise and health, particularly in relation to vegetables. The USDA recommends teens eat between 2 1/2 and 3 cups of vegetables per day. You can appeal to their concerns about health – a diet rich in vegetables can help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer – but teens tend to think they’re invincible. A more immediate concern – like growth, for example – may have more impact. Adolescence is a time of rapid growth, and the nutrients in a healthy diet will promote proper bone, cell and tissue growth.
Buy healthy foods. In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that teens consumed more fruits and vegetables in states that required schools to offer them as part of a meal program. The study further suggests that teens eat more of the good stuff in homes where such foods are available. Limit the junk food in your home and ensure that healthy options are easily accessible. Cut up carrots and celery and store them ready-to-eat in the refrigerator. Place some vegetables with dip on the table half an hour before your meals so when they come up hungry and looking for snacks, a healthy option is easy.
Serve healthy foods prepared in different ways; eventually you’ll find a variety of foods that suit your whole family. The more you expose your teen to a food, the more likely he is to try it. So don’t avoid foods he’s previously eschewed. If he’s hungry enough, he’ll try it. If he’s still not getting the recommended serving of vegetables, try disguising them in foods he’ll eat. Spinach pureed in tomato sauce is easily hidden and can be used in dishes like lasagna, spaghetti, meatballs or chili. You can do the same thing with carrots, zucchini or onions without affecting the flavor too much. Experiment and see what works.
Eat together as a family. Conversation helps slow the consumption of food and it can take a while for our bodies to signal when we’ve had enough. Avoid serving meals family style, where everyone serves themselves. Plate the food beforehand. While it’s true that variety is important, portion size is, too. When the body takes in more calories than it burns, it stores those extra calories as fat.
Don’t buy soda. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the consumption of sugary drinks has contributed to the obesity epidemic. A 20-ounce soda contains a whopping 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and approximately 240 calories. Soda doesn’t fill you up like a solid food does, so it’s truly empty calories. Even fruit juices are full of sugar, so try and limit juice to a glass with breakfast. Invest in a water cooler or a water purification system and encourage your teen to drink lots of it. Have some lemon slices easily accessible if plain old water is too boring.
Encourage physical activity and time away from devices. Don’t drive your teen everywhere, encourage him to walk more. Plan family outings that promote fitness while being fun: hikes, bike rides, water parks. Participating in leisure activities as a family will set a good example; even though it doesn’t seem like it at times, you’re still a big influence on the adult your teen will become.
Tips & Warnings
- Roasting veggies brings out their natural sweetness and might make them more palatable to a fussy teen.
- Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Center for Adolescent Health: Obesity: Nutrition and Exercise
- UIC: Institute for Health Research and Policy: State Laws to Improve School Meals Help Teens Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
- Northern Illinois University: Teens and Nutrition: Factors Influencing Eating Habits
- University of Rochester Medical Center: Teens Need to Eat More Fruits, Veggies to Prevent Obesity
- Harvard School of Public Health: Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet
- Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images