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How to encourage your child to maintain a healthy diet?

Arrière-plan

June 15, 2022 Well-being

Parents

Par Eloïse Trudel-Brûlé & Simon Aubin

Nutritionist & Counsellor Prevention/Promotion

The teenage years are characterized by a strong need for autonomy. Young people want to be more independent from their parents when it comes to certain activities, including eating and meals.

In fact, they want to make their own decisions about what they eat and experiment. It can therefore be a good opportunity to promote your teen's autonomy.

4 ways to encourage your teen's independence

  1. Invite them to participate in meal planning and selection.
  2. Ask them to choose what foods they want for their lunches and to help you make the grocery list.
  3. Invite them to cook a recipe to enjoy with their family. All of these experiences will help them develop skills in decision-making, planning, and preparing meals.
  4. Offer to have their friends over for dinner and let them choose the menu they want to serve. The most important thing is to give your teen the space to make their own choices, to trust them and to encourage their efforts.

"My teenager is always hungry, is that normal?"

Teenagers are growing rapidly and it's perfectly normal for their bodies to require more nutrients. In fact, many will feel very hungry during this time. It's important for teens to eat enough while staying aware of their hunger and fullness cues, which is the feeling of being full after a meal. Protein and fibre help to achieve a good feeling of fullness. So, focus on offering a balanced plate, as suggested by Canada's Food Guide, with a portion of meat or meat substitute, a good amount of vegetables, and a portion of starch, which will help young people have the energy they need.

An important principle for a balanced diet is variety. Your child will be more interested in eating healthy meals if you offer a variety of colourful dishes. In addition, it is important to provide your teens with snacks to satisfy their hunger and wait until the next meal. Snacks with a source of protein and carbohydrates are still the best choices. Here are some examples:

  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Cheese with crackers
  • Homemade granola bar or muffin with nuts
  • Hummus with pita bread
  • ½ peanut butter sandwich
  • Smoothie made with fruit and milk or plant-based beverage


Talking about weight can be detrimental to the development of your teen's self-esteem and even lead to a poor relationship with food.

Adolescence and body changes

For girls, the onset of menstruation increases their nutritional needs for iron. Boys also have higher iron needs as they grow. Therefore, aim to offer a source of meat or meat alternatives at each meal, such as legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu, eggs, fish. Cereals are also often fortified with iron. Green vegetables are also an appealing source of iron, combined with a source of vitamin C (citrus fruit or other fruit, for example), to promote absorption.

Does your teen have a taste for junk food?

You may have noticed your adolescent gravitating towards fast food. It is normal for young people to want to eat junk food or visit fast food chains, especially when they are influenced by their friends. Social norms also tend to assign a ‘cool’ status to this type of food during the teenage year. But instead of scolding your child, offer them alternatives. Similar meals can be replicated at home, with ingredients that are more nutritious. Here are some examples of fun foods you could include on the family menu from time to time:

  • Small homemade pizzas on pita bread
  • Chicken wraps
  • Mealtime poutine, made with baked potatoes
  • Hamburgers
  • Sharing a plate of loaded nachos with your family
  • A club sandwich dinner
  • Etc.

Remember that balance is the most important thing in one’s diet. For example, forbidding fast food is not necessary or even advisable, as it may create a greater craving for this type of food. Instead, it's best to include them occasionally in your child's diet. Also, be a role model by cooking and eating healthy, nutritious meals for yourself most of the time.

Talk about weight? No, thank you!

It's not a good idea to talk about body weight with your children, no matter their weight. In addition, adolescence can be a particularly sensitive time in terms of physical appearance, due to the many changes in the body. So, talking about weight can be detrimental to your teen's self-esteem and can even lead to a poor relationship with food.  Feel free to compliment your teen, but focus your attention on their skills, talents, accomplishments, etc.

 

References (in French)

Sylvie Labrecque, Autonomie et responsabilité des ados
Équilibre, Votre influence a du poids
Gouvernement du Canada, Une saine alimentation pour les adolescents
Gouvernement du Canada, Guide alimentaire
Gouvernement du Canada, Nutriments dans les aliments - Fer
Fastfood santé, de Geneviève O’Gleman, nutritionniste