Want to help your seventh-grader develop healthy eating habits? Here are some tips from experts.
Try to teach your child about the importance of a well-balanced meal. Have them demonstrate that knowledge by packing their own lunch, or occasionally planning family dinners. Make sure they have half the plate filled with fruits and vegetables.
Try to talk to your seventh-grader about the food they're eating when you’re not around. If they are into sports, highlight the importance of a healthy diet to their athletic performance. If they are concerned about their complexion, highlight the impact of healthy foods and water to a clear complexion. When you explain the benefits of healthy eating as it applies to things they're particularly concerned about, they may be more likely to take your advice.
Stocking the kitchen
Keep items in your kitchen healthy. If you buy chips or cookies, your child will eat them. When they're helping themselves to snacks in the kitchen, making healthy choices is easy if it's the only choice they have. And if you can’t control what they eat out of the house, you can at least make sure what she’s eating at home is healthy.
Let your seventh-grader prepare some meals on their own. Try letting your tween be in charge of dinner once a month so that they can demonstrate their cooking skills. Get them involved in meal planning, have them decide on a recipe, and prepare it for the family. They may try something new the family hasn’t tried before, which can be a good learning experience for the entire family while also boosting their self-esteem and competence in the kitchen.
Make time for healthy family meals. It allows you to model healthy eating and is a good time to catch up with your active child.
Keep meal time free of technological distractions. This will encourage your seventh-grader to listen to their body and realize when they're full and when they'd like more.
Keep an eye out for mindless snacking while doing homework, talking on the phone, or watching television. It’s easy for a tween to not pay attention to snacks while multitasking. If your child has a problem with this, you can make snacking permitted only in the kitchen.
Try varying your preparation for vegetables to keep from getting burnt out on one type. If you normally steam or sauté vegetables, try grilling or even roasting them until they’re golden and crispy. Vegetables are easy to roast and become sweeter when roasted. This is a great way to try to get your child to eat Brussels sprouts.
Try an at-home cooking competition. If your child has siblings, give each child the same vegetables and ask them to prepare them for the family to taste test. A friendly competition can get everyone thinking about new ways to eat vegetables.
Switch up your seventh-grader's sandwich (or have them make their own) by adding different vegetables such as avocado, roasted red peppers, or hummus. Incorporating these vegetables not only increases their vegetable intake, but also adds a new flavor to the standard sandwich.
Try having a “veggie night” once a week. Serve veggie dogs or veggie burgers, hummus with cut vegetables like broccoli and cucumbers, and baked sweet potato fries. Committing to one night a week will challenge both you and your child to try vegetables in different ways and see them as more than just a side dish.
Try hummus as a snack. You can have your seventh-grader make homemade hummus or choose from the varieties available at the store. Chickpeas, (which hummus is made from), are high in protein, fiber, and iron, which make them a great healthy choice for your growing tween.
Have your child prepare their own smoothies for breakfast. It gives them the ability to make healthy choices while also the independence of making breakfast themself. Ingredients like bananas, frozen berries, low-fat Greek yogurt, and spinach are all good options to have on hand.
Have fruits on hand that are easy to pack, like oranges, apples, and bananas for your on-the-go tween. These fruits can easily be tucked into a backpack and eaten on the go.
Try adding fruits to salads. If your seventh-grader enjoys salads, try adding apples, grapes, or dried fruits to increase fruit intake while adding a different flavor to the salad.
Add new grains to meals to increase whole grains. Try to cook brown rice with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and add black beans, greens, and salsa for a healthy dinner bowl.
Try incorporating oats into breakfast for more whole grains. For families who are busy in the mornings, try making overnight oats. Combine ½ cup of rolled oats, ½ cup milk, fruit, and nuts in a jar. Place it in the refrigerator overnight and the next morning breakfast is ready to go. You could also make a large batch of oatmeal the night before and warm it up in the morning.
The fine print
Always read the label on grain products and teach your tween how to do so also. The first ingredient should be whole grains.
Make up your own trail mix by adding nuts like walnuts, almonds, and pistachios with dried fruits for on-the-go healthy snacks.
Swap out beef with poultry or fish in some of your favorite recipes to increase your seventh-grader's lean-meat consumption. Ground turkey is a good substitute in hamburgers and casseroles. In tacos, try using a white flaky fish like tilapia, or use a combination of black beans and low-fat refried beans for a non-meat taco.
Edamame, or immature soybeans, in their shell can be a fun and healthy snack or appetizer and a good way to increase protein and vegetable intake.
Use non or low-fat milk when preparing cereal, oatmeal, or soup instead of water. This is an easy way to increase your child’s dairy intake without pouring their a glass of milk.
Add yogurt or low-fat milk to a smoothie. This is an easy way to add dairy to snacks or breakfast.
Try milk substitutes for children with lactose intolerance. Fortified almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk can be good options to make sure your child gets calcium and vitamin D.
Oils & trans fats
Stay away from harmful trans fats. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list, this means there is trans fat in the product, even if the front of the label says “0 trans fats.”
Oils & vegetable oils
Try cooking with olive or canola oils instead of butter or margarine. It’s an easy substitution to make, and you’re swapping in healthier fats.
Oils & flax meal
Add ground flax meal to breads, pancakes, or waffles. You can even sprinkle ground flax onto cereals for added healthy fats.
Oils & fish
Try to make sure your child gets two servings of fish each week. Certain fish, like salmon and sardines, contain important healthy fatty acids.
Try to make as many meals at home as possible. Your 7th grader may be eating more away from home at this age, which can mean their intake of sodium is going up. Encourage them to choose fresh, healthy foods when they're not with you.
The fine print
Always check the labels when buying packaged foods. Products like frozen dinners and snack foods can be high in sodium. Choosing low-sodium over high-sodium options is an easy way to decrease your child’s sodium intake. Teach your tween to look for snack products with less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Hide the salt
Don’t leave a salt shaker on the table. If you’d like to have added flavor available, try making your own herb mix to keep on the table. Garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano or thyme are good options to mix together to add flavor without adding sodium.
Teach your child about moderation. It may be ok for them to have treats at birthday parties or other events, but not every day.
Re-Usable water bottles
If you can, buy your seventh-grader a re-usable water bottle to pack in their lunch, carry at school, and take to after-school activities. If they have water handy, they may be less likely to choose soda or sports drinks to quench their thirst.
Try to let your child add more natural sweetness to their cereals, yogurts, and other foods. Fruits, a small amount of honey, or cinnamon can be good ways to naturally sweeten foods. But even with natural sugars, moderation is key.
To learn more about nutrition for your child, check out our seventh 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.