Teach Your Teens About Nutrition

— Written By Lethia Lee and last updated by Patricia Burch

This is a topic I believe we all need some lessons on so that we can help out teens make healthier choices.

If decoding the information on a food package is a challenge for adults, think of how hard it is for teens who are just beginning to make choices for themselves. Give your teens help as they become more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies.

Sometimes we need to just narrow the focus. What I mean by that is a wealth of information greets a health-conscious label reader in the Nutrition Facts portion of a food package. Just focusing on a few nutrients can make label reading more manageable for young teens. I like to encourage fiber-rich foods that are popular and easy for teens to add to their diets. I always suggest incorporating snacks such as guacamole with whole-wheat pita chips, popcorn and fruit, it is important to help them understand that eating enough fiber can keep them be fuller longer and improve their digestion. Foods with added sugars and salt should be limited. Candy, soda, baked goods, chips and other popular snack foods have few valuable nutrients.

Portion distortion is another thing we need to embrace. For a teenager-sized appetite, a single portion often doesn’t satisfy, some teens could consume an entire bag of chips or a bottle of soda that actually contains several portions better suited for splitting between friends. We often assume teens will eat based on what they see friends eating, but if we encourage and inform them to eat more fruits and vegetables and eat appropriately sized portions, they can make healthier choices and set the example that others will want to follow. Teens are growing and need both calories and nutrients. Focusing on nutrient-rich foods – fruits,  vegetables, legumes, lean protein, low-fat dairy and whole grains — will help teens fill up without overdoing it on calories, fat, sugar and salt.

There are Health Claims that are too good to be true. Such as assertions that manufacturers make about their food often send mixed messages. Who would guess that a sugar-loaded cereal be a source of whole grains, or that a fruit-flavored beverage could boost immunity? Teach your teens to investigate further when the message on the front of the package is questionable. Studying the Nutrition Facts Label helps determine whether or not it’s a healthful choice. Eating disorders are more common during the teen years, especially for teen girls. If your teen becomes obsessed with reading Nutrition Facts Labels and overly restrictive about food, discuss what makes a balanced healthy lifestyle.

Your Teens also need to make good choices when they are away from home. Teens have a lot more independence; parents are no longer in control of what they eat. Instilling general principles of healthy eating will help teens to be mindful of eating habits. Using technology is a fun and interactive way for teens to engage in healthy activities, such as creating team challenges among friends to increase intake of fruits, vegetables or water and bump up their physical activity. Mobile apps and other on-line tools can also motivate them to be mindful of their eating habits. They can use them as reminders, incentives and fun to meet their needs.

There’s no question that your teenagers will indulge in less-than-nutritious choices along the way, but continue to encourage them to take ownership of their health it will pay off!

Thank you for reading my articles and putting them into practice.

For more information on nutrition for teens contact Lethia Lee at the cooperative Extension Office. Lethia_lee@ncsu.edu or 910-592-7161.