Has your teenager started making some unhealthy food choices? Have they gone against what you practice in your home, choosing a higher fat lunch of french fries and burgers over something more balanced that you would have provided from your kitchen? I was following a post on a Facebook page from real mom dietitian, Sally Kuzemchak, M.S., R.D. @RealMomNutrition, about a dilemma with her own teenage son and some regular fast food choices he was making. I recently went through similar challenges with my two oldest daughters. Last school year, I had two girls in middle school. Both girls were repeatedly asking for money for school lunch, mainly pizza and ice cream bars. They also started going to a local drug store after school for candy and slushies, and later to a local coffee shop for coffee drinks. This year, with my oldest in high school, she and her friends love to go to on “nug runs” for fast food. Every aspect of my teenager’s existence seems to revolve around her friends and eating. And, honestly, I love it! With the vast amount of technology sources that our kids have, most teens are socializing less and less face-to-face. If my girls want to spend time hanging-out in “real-life”, I am all for it! Isn’t that an important part of social development? But, I also know that I don’t want my kids consuming all that junk food. Here are a few simple solutions I implemented that have worked beautifully in my household:
Give a set monthly allowance: This is the single best things I have done to control what my girls are spending their money on. I give each girl a set amount of money each money. They have to put 10% away to give, 10% savings, and they can spend the rest. Their money can be spent on school lunches, social outings with their friends, school things they may want (all the t-shirts! sporting events), or something that they may want to buy. Once the money is gone for the month, it’s gone. My husband and I try to guide what they are spending their money, but ultimately it is their choice.
Provide healthy choices at home: If they are going out a couple of times during the week or buying school lunch occasionally, I try to make sure what is being offered at home is healthy. I provide all kinds of nutritious options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If they buy a high calories, sugary coffee drink after school, I know that a balanced dinner is waiting for them later that evening. It’s a great way to teach your child about balance and moderation—yes, you can have the treats, but not all the time. Oftentimes, the novelty of the junk will wear-off before you know it.
Talk to your kids about what good nutrition looks like in your home: As the parent, you decide what to buy, serve and provide for your family in your home. As they leave the house, they make those decisions for themselves. Every family has their set of rules and limits when it comes to eating a variety of foods, including those more occasional foods. Your goals as the parent is that they take that knowledge with them in their decision making when you aren’t around. Like all of us, they will sometimes make great choices and other times they may make poor choices (isn’t that true with all aspects of our lives?). Keep the conversation open about nutrition in a light manner. Talk about fuel and energy, their sports performance, but also include topics about cooking, cultural foods that you make and food traditions—because food is an important part of who we are. Encourage your teen to invite friends over and offer to feed them! Spending time with teenagers over food will help open up tons of fun conversation topics.
Ultimately, on my daughter’s last “nug run” she decided not to purchase any food at all. She loved being with her tribe, but said she didn’t like the way the junk sometimes makes her feel. She came home, made herself a sandwich and grabbed an apple.