Tips to help your teen eat healthy

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A parent could prepare healthy meals packed with the necessary nutrients for their children, and yet kids may still eat unhealthy foods when they’re away from home.

For teenagers and young adults, especially those who are away from home to pursue further studies, access to junk food, busier social schedules and peer pressure can all make eating healthy a challenge.

By teaching teens the value of good nutrition, you can increase the odds of them reaching for an apple, instead of a chocolate bar, when they’re out.

Here are a few practices you can start today to ensure your teens maintain healthy eating habits anywhere, anytime.

• Set a good example

The more at-home family meals, the better a teen’s health.

Children and teens who often share meals with family are more likely to eat healthier foods and maintain a healthy weight.

So try serving healthy family dinners at least three times a week.

When life gets hectic, shared breakfasts and weekend lunches offer the same benefits.

Family togetherness at mealtime instils values in your child around healthy eating that they’ll carry with them wherever they go.

• Teach them to make smart fast food choices

When your teens go out with their friends, they want to fit in.

When the gang ends up at a fast food joint, make sure your teens know to choose what’s best for their body.

For example, choosing a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a double cheeseburger, or a small order of fries instead of the large size, are both steps in the right direction.

Also, encourage your kids to drink an adequate amount of water.

These days, it’s cool to carry a water bottle, so make sure kids use it when they’re eating out.

• Give them options at school, college or university

As kids enter secondary school, college or university, they can eat from the vending machine or fast food drive-thru, instead of the school canteen, if they want to.

In some cases, the school canteen doesn’t do a much better job at providing healthy alternatives either.

If your children purchase canteen meals, stress the importance of healthy choices whenever possible.

For example, encourage them to select healthy dishes like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, over fried food and sweetened or carbonated beverages.

It’s about making smart choices in less-than-ideal situations.

• Send them to school, college or university with a healthy lunch and/or snacks

In some environments, it’s not cool to bring your lunch. And an insulated lunchbox? That’s often a big no too.

However, even if your teen complains, encourage your child to take some healthy food to school, college or university. If you can get away with it, pack a lunchbox for them.

Possible ingredients include a sandwich on wholegrain bread, yoghurt, apples, baby carrots and cheese.

If the lunchbox is a no-go, try non-perishable items such as wholegrain pretzels, almonds, or even a well-balanced protein bar.

If your teens have a few healthy snacks on hand, they are less likely to raid the vending machine.

• Get them involved in meals

When you recruit your kids to help shop for groceries, cook and prepare meals, they are more likely to think about healthy options. Let them help plant a vegetable garden or prepare dinner.

As they get older, encourage them to pack their own lunch. You might be surprised by the good choices they make.

Teach your kids simple recipes that will provide them with the right balance of protein, carbs and fibre; this is ideal as they can easily prepare these meals when they’re away from home.

• Explain the need for “high octane” fuel

Many secondary school and college or university students participate in one or more sports.

Among other benefits, sports programmes provide a great opportunity for teens to learn about the benefits of eating quality food.

It only takes one nauseous episode or an upset stomach or two for a teenager to learn that they feel better competing after a protein shake, rather than a fatty fast food meal.

With good gas in the tank, they’ll have more energy at practice and finish the game strong.

As parents, we can’t control everything our growing child eats.

But by establishing a healthy foundation, we can give them the tools to make healthy choices now and well into adulthood.

Susan Bowerman is the senior director for Herbalife Nutrition Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, complete-ness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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