Oh, how I long for the days when my kids ate what I put in front of them. They weren’t strong enough to open the fridge, couldn’t reach the cookies in the pantry, and had no money of their own and no transportation to get to the nearest fast food restaurant. There are zillions of books, websites and blogs dedicated to feeding our babies, toddlers and preschoolers healthy foods. But what happens when they become tweens and teens and make many of their food choices when we aren’t there to help them make wise decisions?
Many kids are bombarded with the opportunity to eat: school celebrations, post-soccer game snacks, donut holes after church, cookies at grandma’s, treats from the ice cream truck or neighborhood lemonade stand. And for older kids, social activities often revolve around food and high calorie drinks. What could be cooler for a new driver than to pick up their best friend and head to the ice cream shop or lunch at the mall – no grownups in sight?
Obviously, we can’t follow our older kids around, making their food choices for them. So how do we help them make healthy food choices as they fall head-first into adulthood?
- Talk about it, but not too much. When topics are uncomfortable, awkward or just plain weird; most of us shy away from them. But in the case of food, appetite and nutrition, not talking about it could do more harm than good. Having regular discussions about healthy food choices, good food, cooking, etc. can be great. Just don’t overdo it. If your kids think you’re beating them over the head with good nutrition, you know they will run screaming the other way. Do your best to strike a balance.
- Get them involved. Most late-elementary school aged kids can start cooking some of their own meals. As they get older, the complexity of their kitchen repertoire can grow with them. Does your teen love Frappuccino’s? Help them find a recipe to make their own healthier, cheaper version. Does your tween love nachos? Help them try out an at-home version with veggies. Help your kids understand the importance of preparing their own foods from both the financial and nutritional perspectives. And don’t forget to be an enthusiastic taste-tester as they experiment in the kitchen!
- Have some grace. Food, weight and body image are tough issues. For me, for you and for our kids. No one wants to be lectured, micro-managed or criticized; especially teenagers. From a developmental perspective, adolescence is a time of trying out new identities, behaviors and ideas all while slowly separating from our parents and joining more closely with peers. Parenting teens takes a lot of patience and grace. There will be missteps and poor decisions made about food (and many, many other things) during this time of our kids’ lives. In the end, the most powerful things we can do as parents are love them, provide a safe, welcoming home for them and encourage them as they find their way into adulthood.