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Feeding Your Teenager - Part 2

Teen Talk

You want your 14-year-old to lay off the fries and learn to love broccoli. Why? Because you know that eating vegetables is linked to a lower chance of developing chronic conditions such as cancer and heart disease later in life. That may motivate you to pile your plate with greens, but it probably won't sway your teen.

"Each child is different, but most teens are motivated by having more energy for school and sports and looking their best," says David Geller, MD, a pediatrician at Patriot Pediatrics in Bedford, Mass. "I don't concentrate on their appearance so much as suggest healthier foods to get them what they want."

Geller recommends spending less time lecturing and more time modeling behaviors you'd like your teen to emulate, such as eating nutritious meals.

"Adolescents don't always make great choices, but if healthy foods are on their plates, they tend to eat them," says Geller.

Making time for family meals speaks volumes about what you value as a parent. Gathering at the table is about more than eating right. A recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association surveyed more than 900 teens and their parents and concluded that family meals are useful for enhancing togetherness and communication.

Move It with Your Teen

Many teens are involved in sports, but plenty still do not get the minimum 60 minutes of daily physical activity that experts recommend.  Physical activity fosters endurance and muscle strength; builds strong bones and joints; and promotes well-being.

Moving around also helps maintain a healthy weight. One study found a lack of vigorous exercise was the primary cause for obesity in children aged 11 to 15.

Helping your child with weight control now can mean better health in adulthood.

"There is a very good chance that an overweight teen will become an overweight adult," Geller says.

If your teen tends to be sedentary, choose an activity to do together, such as walking, biking, in-line skating, or tennis. Working out with kids keeps them healthy in more ways than you can imagine. Recent research in the journal Pediatrics revealed that teens who participated in physical activities with parental involvement were less likely to have low self-esteem and engage in violence.

Snack On

Hungry teens have a hard time holding off for the next meal. Done right, snacking can provide the nutrients your son or daughter needs. These healthy snacks also double as quick breakfasts:

  • Whole grain bagel spread with peanut butter and topped with raisins; milk
  • Leftover pizza; 100% orange juice
  • 8 ounces low-fat fruited yogurt; whole grain toast; 100% juice
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie; whole grain toast
  • Hard-boiled eggs; whole grain roll; fruit
  • Waffle sandwich (two whole grain toasted waffles spread with almond, peanut, or soy nut butters); milk
  • Trail mix made from low-sugar cereal, dried fruit, chopped nuts or roasted soybeans, and mini chocolate chips
  • Sandwiches on whole grain bread
  • Hummus or peanut butter and whole grain crackers
  • Bowl of whole grain cereal; fruit; low-fat milk
  • Vegetables and low-fat yogurt dip
  • Reduced-fat mozzarella cheese sticks and low-fat crackers
  • Low-fat microwave popcorn topped with grated Parmesan cheese; 100% juice
  • Yogurt with whole grain cereal mixed in
  • Low-fat cottage cheese and whole grain crackers or whole grain toast
  • Nuts; 100% juice.

Pick your Battles

The house is stocked with healthy foods. You're home most nights for dinner. You talk with your teen about skipping soda in favor of low-fat milk, and choosing grilled chicken sandwiches instead of fried at the fast-food restaurant. You even bought inline skates so you can bond with your teen while working out. Still, his eating and exercising is less than exemplary. What should you do?

Back off, for starters.

"Avoid power struggles over food," says Sonneville. Strict control over what a child eats can backfire. "Your teen may respond by over- or under-eating just to assert his independence," she says.

"Teens know they shouldn't drink soda or eat fries. They also know they shouldn't smoke or drive fast -- but they do," Geller says. "That's the nature of the beast."

Still, there's hope, especially when your own lifestyle is on the right track.

"I like to look at it this way: By educating them and providing healthy foods, you're giving teens the skills to use now or at a later date," Geller says. "As a parent, that's about as much as you can do."

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