Let’s face it. Figuring out how to help your teenager create a healthy lifestyle isn’t easy. With the constant push-me-pull-you of their wanting to be left alone versus suddenly wanting to discuss an urgent matter with you (just when you’re flying out the door or in a meeting), it can be tricky to have a mutually enjoyable conversation, let alone a joint plan for a healthy lifestyle.
But don’t be shy! With one-third of kids and teens overweight in our country, teens in general could use some help. If you believe your teen is ready to make some changes, maybe it’s time to spring forward into some new habits together, as a family. (And if your teen is resistant, the best thing you can do is to be a good role model yourself until they’re ready). If you come up with ideas together, and focus on health instead of weight, you can’t go wrong!
Here are some ideas that worked for my family and for many of the families I’ve worked with as a dietitian:
Cooking skills – teens need to be able to cook at least 10 healthy meals before they leave for college. Get them to help you with meals and have them pick new recipes they can create themselves. Maybe there’s one night a week where your teen can make dinner for the family?
Family dinners – plan to have at least three meals a week where the family sits down together to eat a healthy meal. Turn off any distractions such as television or cell phones. Light candles and play music if you like. Keep the conversation light. Let them invite a friend and spend time enjoying the meal together.
Healthy snacks – make real food the easiest choice to grab – cut-up fruit and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats like nuts or guacamole. Ask your teen what they like. Take them grocery shopping and show them how to look at portions, calories and sugar (4 g sugar = 1 tsp sugar). Limit favorite junk foods to one bag or box a week.
Stay active – kids and teens need 60 minutes of activity or exercise most days of the week. In addition to after school sports or gym workouts, find ways to be more active at home. Blast music while cleaning, have dance parties (10 minutes or 3 songs will increase metabolic rate), go on walks together as a family, and plan active vacations. Doing outdoor chores together such as washing cars, raking leaves, shoveling snow or gardening also makes it more fun.
Sleep Enough – getting quality sleep, and enough of it (8-10 hours for an average teen) is an overlooked part of any weight management program. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more prone to stress and over-eating during the day. Help your teen get enough sleep, especially on school nights, by providing quiet evening hours to get home work done and a regular dinner schedule whenever possible. It can make a world of difference to their health, appetite, and productivity the next day.