Want to help your ninth-grader develop healthy eating habits? Here are some tips from experts.
Stocking the kitchen
Don’t stock your cupboards with unhealthy food. You are less likely to be able to control what your teenager eats when you're not around, but if the only foods in the house are healthy, your teen is more likely to make healthy choices at home.
Schedule meals and sit down together as a family. Regularly preparing healthy foods and enjoying them together is a way to demonstrate to your teen the importance of a healthy diet.
Make your plates half fruits and vegetables. Your teenager's portions should be about the same as yours. Focus on all of your plates and make sure half the plate is full of fruits and vegetables, the rest with whole grains and lean protein. Try plating the food prior to sitting down—leaving the leftovers off the table can help control everyone's portions.
Model healthy behavior while eating out with your teenager. Opt for lower-calorie options like vegetables or chicken instead of beef, stick to water instead of soda, and skip dessert. You may not be with your teen when your child eats out with friends, but showing their how to make better choices can influence their decisions when you're not around.
Discuss portion sizes rather than restrictions. If you emphasize dieting or restriction, it could encourage your child to not eat enough, just as modeling or encouraging excessive eating can lead to over indulgence. Teaching your teen about portion sizes allows them to make educated decisions even when they are not with you.
Have your teen cook one healthy meal for the family each week. Let them decide the menu and prepare and cook the meal all on their own. This will improve their cooking skills as well as their confidence.
Try talking to your teen about the immediate benefits of a healthy diet rather than stressing the long term risks of high blood pressure or diabetes. Emphasize the positive benefits of a healthy diet, – like healthier-looking skin, more energy, and strong muscles.
Missouri pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert suggests having your teen download a food logging app to their phone if your child shows interest in tracking what they eat. You can download the same app and compare who made the best choices throughout the day.
Plan a salad bar dinner with your teen and have them pick the theme. For example, Mexican night would include bean and grilled chicken salads, Greek night would have cucumbers, olives, and chickpea salads, and Asian night could feature tofu, cabbage, and even mandarin oranges. Having many veggie options to add to the salads makes sure you all get to create the salad you like while getting your vegetable servings in.
Keep vegetables accessible. Cut raw vegetables like carrots, celery, and cauliflower and keep them ready-to-eat in the fridge. They’ll go great with a dip like hummus or yogurt dip for an after-school snack.
For teens who still don’t like eating vegetables, try making a vegetable pilaf part of dinner. Chop asparagus, broccoli, and mushrooms and add them to brown rice. If you’re short on time, frozen vegetable medleys can be a good mixture with rice as well.
Make sure you continue to eat your vegetables. Missouri pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert reminds parents that teens are still influenced by Mom and Dad, whether they admit it or not, so it’s important to model healthy behavior.
Fruit at breakfast
Add a serving of fruit to breakfast. Whether you’re making your teen’s breakfast, packing it the night before, or she’s making it herself, adding berries to cereal, or offering an apple or banana on the go is a good way to increase fruit intake. A homemade smoothie is another way to get fruit into breakfast.
Add fruits to savory meals for a new way for your teen to eat their favorite fruits. For example, add sliced apples or pears to a panini or salad or add pineapple to tacos or salsa.
Keep a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter. Keeping fruits in easy-to-grab spots for your teen will encourage them to eat them. Since fruit is portable, grabbing an orange on the way out the door is much better than grabbing a cookie.
Encourage your teen to choose popcorn as a snack. A natural whole grain, popcorn made without butter and little to no salt is a healthy way to increase whole grain consumption.
Teach your teen to read the nutrition labels to look for whole grains. Whole grains should be the first ingredient on the list, regardless of whether the front of the package says “multigrain” or “all-natural.” A food with at least 3-5 grams of fiber per serving is a high fiber food.
Make mini-pizza with whole grain English muffins. Top with low-sodium tomato sauce, low-fat cheese, and mushrooms. It’s an easy meal your teen could even make for him or herself.
Choose darker colored breads, rice, and pastas over lighter colored items. Whole grain items will usually be darker in color.
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.
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
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.
Make a healthier dip for vegetables with low-fat yogurt. Use low-fat plain or Greek yogurt and add spices like garlic powder, pepper, dried dill, and dried parsley. Add a small amount of honey and cinnamon to yogurt for a dip for fruits.
Add low-fat milk or low-sugar soy milk to frozen fruits and spinach for a healthy smoothie. Smoothies are a great option for a quick breakfast or even an afternoon snack or dessert.
Milk with meals
Serve low-fat milk or soy milk with family dinner. It may be hard to keep your teen drinking milk, but if it’s a regular part of the dinner routine your child will be more likely to continue drinking it.
Oils & fatty fish
Try to make sure you and your teen eat fatty fish like salmon or trout twice a week. These fish have healthy fats and essential nutrients.
Oils & healthy fats
Add healthy fats from avocado to a sandwich or wrap instead of mayonnaise or creamy condiments.
Ask for low-sodium options when you and your teen eat out. Many restaurants will prepare a low-sodium meal or offer suggestions on low-sodium dishes if you ask the waiter.
Hide the salt
Keep the salt shaker off the table at dinner. Your teen is less likely to reach for it when it’s not in front of her. Use spices like garlic, onion powder, or pepper to give food additional flavor without adding salt.
Teach your teen to spot high-sodium content on a nutrition label. Foods with more than 400 milligrams of sodium per serving are considered high. Your child should be looking for foods with less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator with a couple slices of lemon or cucumber. The flavor added to the water makes it more attractive to your teen than the water straight from the tap or sugar-sweetened beverages.
Instead of buying sugar-sweetened cereals, have your teen add sweetness to their cereal with sliced or dried fruit. This way your child can control the amount of sweetness without adding sugars.
Have your teen pack an orange when going to sports practice rather than a sports drink. Eating an orange during or immediately after practice can replace electrolytes lost to sweat.
To learn more about nutrition for your child, check out our ninth 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.