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12th grade nutrition tips: Here's how to help your child

Here's how you can help your 12th-grader eat healthy.
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Want to help your 12th-grader develop healthy eating habits? Here are some tips from experts.

Sit down for dinner

Try to keep the family sitting down together for dinner. This is an important time to catch up with your teen and model healthy behavior.

Food app

Missouri-based pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert suggests downloading a food-tracking app if your teen has shown interest in tracking what your child eats. Download the same app yourself and compare who made the best choices each day. This can help you both make sure he’s meeting all their nutritional needs for the day.

Benefits of a healthy diet

Talk to your teen about the benefits of a healthy diet. Teens might not grasp the idea of preventing heart disease, but they will want a clearer complexion and more energy for sports or other activities.

Assign meals

Try assigning one meal every week or two for your teen to prepare for the family, and have him manage it from the store to the table. You can steer him towards healthier options, but let him be in charge. This is also the best way to prepare your teen for living away from the home.

Only eat at the table

Permit eating only at the kitchen table, rather than in bedrooms or in front of screens. Missouri-based Pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert says this will discourage mindless eating, and provide more time for your teen to sit at the table, where you can have a chance to chat.

Serve as much as possible

Serve vegetables as much as possible at home. Your teen may not be eating vegetables when eating outside of the home. You can make up that deficit by trying to get as many veggies into them as possible when they are home.

Meatless Monday

Take part in “Meatless Monday.” The campaign was started by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Monday Campaigns. The premise is simple – just one day a week, cut out meat. It can be a great way to think additional protein sources that don’t come from meat. It can also get the family to try more vegetables and learn new ways to incorporate them into a full meal.

Prep together

Have your teen choose vegetables for the two of you to prepare together. Cutting up raw vegetables to have on hand throughout the week for snacks or stir fries is one simple option. Or if you’re feeling adventurous try a new vegetable like artichoke or broccoli rabe.

Make a salad

Make a fruit salad with your teen by letting them choose which fruits to include. Pineapple, melon, strawberries, kiwis, and grapes are all good options. Fruit salad can be a great choice to bring to a potluck or family gathering.

Readily available

Try to keep fruit readily available, especially fruits that can be eaten on-the-go. Your teen is probably very busy these days, and having fruits like oranges, bananas, and apples on hand can help encourage them to grab one on the way out the door.


Fruits can make a great option for dessert, but can also add to dinner itself. Try adding fruit like pineapple to kabobs or chicken dishes for a different spin on savory foods.

Whole fruit

Teach your teen to eat whole fruit before other snacks or juice. The fiber from the fruit will help him feel full and may cut down on the amount of processed foods your child eats.


Encourage your teen to eat popcorn as a snack. Popcorn is naturally a whole grain, and with limited salt and butter, it can be a healthy snack.

Whole grains

Try swapping out refined grains for whole grains in the items you serve at home. For example, try brown rice instead of white, or whole wheat pasta instead of plain, or whole wheat pizza crust instead of plain.

Lesser-known grains

Have your teen experiment with lesser-known grains. For example, quinoa and millet can be used in place of rice in many dishes.

Serve milk with meals

Serve milk with dinners or other meals at home. Many teens replace milk with soda and other beverages at this age. It’s important to try to make nutritional drinks available where possible.

String cheese

Try to keep low-fat string cheese in the house and easily accessible. It can be easily packed for lunch or a snack and is a great way to increase your teen’s dairy intake.

Low-fat yogurt

Try to keep low-fat yogurt in the refrigerator for a quick breakfast for on the go teens. Add fruit and almonds or walnuts to sweeten and add protein and healthy fats.

Vegetable oils

Substitute vegetable oils for butters or margarines when cooking at home. Your teen may consume these fats when he’s not at home, so it’s best to try to make everything your child eats at home as healthy as possible.


Add avocado to a sandwich or wrap instead of mayonnaise. The avocado will add flavor while still giving the creaminess that mayonnaise would add. If your teen makes their own sandwiches, encourage them to make this substitution as well.

Eating out

Teach your teen about making healthier choices when eating out with friends. Grilled instead of fried chicken, skipping mayo and cheese, and ordering a single-patty rather than a double are all good ways to limit fat intake while still eating out.

Nutrition labels

Teach your teen to spot high-sodium content on nutrition labels. Foods with more than 400 milligrams of sodium per serving are considered high. They should be looking for foods with under 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Prep meals at home

Prepare as many meals as possible at home, either by cooking them yourself or having your teen cook. Since most sodium is consumed in processed foods and foods served at restaurants or picked up at convenience stores, the best way to lower your teen’s sodium intake is to cook at home as much as possible.

Limit fast food

Try limiting the number of times your teen eats fast food each week. You may not always be able to control their choices, so try making sure items at home are as low-sodium as possible.

Adding flavors

Try adding flavors to dishes without using salt. Garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, and herbs like cilantro or oregano can add a lot of flavor without adding sodium.

No added sugars

Keep your kitchen free of items with added sugars as much as possible. Your teen may be eating a lot of snacks outside the home, and allowing only healthy low-sugar options in the house ensures that at least when he’s home he’s eating well.

Water bottle

Have your teen carry a water bottle with him whenever possible. This will keep him hydrated and less likely to buy sugary drinks when he’s thirsty.

Energy vs. sports drinks

Teach your teen the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks. Some teens aren’t aware that energy drinks contain added stimulants and caffeine and aren’t necessary for promoting athletic performance or recovery. Highlight the dangers of mixing energy drinks with alcohol so your teen is aware of the risks.


Keep unsalted nuts or peanut butter on hand for an after school snack for your teen. Nuts are a great way to increase lean protein, and when paired with fruit they’re a well-balanced snack.

Eggs and egg whites

Make eggs or egg whites a part of breakfast. Whether you scramble them in an omelet, or hard-boil them to eat on-the-go, eggs are a great way to get lean protein into your teen’s morning.

Healthier choices

Teach your teen healthier protein choices. When eating out, encourage them to choose grilled chicken rather than fried, and order a smaller cut of meat or take half of it to go. Incorporate beans, fish, and nuts into meals, and swap ground lean turkey for ground beef in some recipes.

To learn more about nutrition for your child, check out our 12th grade nutrition guide page.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Wanda Koszewski, Associate Professor and Department Chair for Human Nutrition, Winthrop University; Manuel Villacorta, Author, Speaker and Registered Dietitian, Whole Body Reboot; and Dr. Natasha Burgert, Pediatrician, Pediatric Associates.