Daily bombardment of near-impossible body images or often misguided hype about the latest diet the hottest celebrity is on can be difficult to stomach, especially for teenage girls who may struggle with separating fact from fiction. Helping them understand what's required to fuel their growing bodies can go a long way to curbing unhealthy behavior.
Teen girls going through puberty and growth spurts require nutrients for energy, growth and physical and emotional health. In fact, teenagers have the highest nutrient needs of any age group:
Teenage girls need 1,800 to 2,200 calories a day if they're ages 11 to 13, and 1,800 to 2,400 calories a day if they're ages 14 to 18.
Too often, body image issues lead to unhealthy choices, such as a refusal to eat foods they think are "fatty" but that actually contain good fats like omega-3 and monounsaturated fats," says Janice Newell Bissex, author of The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers.
But not all calories are not created equal. A bag of chips and a chef's salad may have the same calories, but their nutrients can be distinctly different. If your teen daughter is a picky eater, or struggles with body image issues, getting her to choose healthy food options can be a struggle. Here are seven healthy eating tips to encourage good food habits in teenage girls:
The facts don't lie: for growing bodies, breakfast is essential not only to start their day but to keep their brain and body fueled throughout the school day. For many teens, the early morning is just too early for a traditional, sit-down breakfast. Registered dietitian Andrea Holwegner suggests these on-the-go breakfasts that teens can eat at home, in the car, on the bus or even once they get to school:
- PB&J waffles
- Egg muffins or frittatas
- Big batch muesli or overnight oats
- Protein pancakes
- Quinoa or granola yogurt parfait
Mix It Up
People have their own personal food preferences, and teenagers are no exception. Don't sweat the small stuff: if your daughter doesn't want eggs, don't waste your time trying to convince her to eat eggs because they're healthy. Find out what healthy foods she does like, and serve those, even if it’s seven days a week. Mix it up:
- Fish tacos are just as healthy for breakfast as they are for dinner.
- Smoothies not only taste good, but throwing in a handful of veggies along with the fruit provides more nutrients than a fruit-only smoothie.
- Breakfast for dinner isn't just easy, it’s also healthy if you have healthy cereals, fruit and yogurt, or an egg sandwich.
Take Your Teen to the Grocery Store
There's nothing worse than dragging an uncooperative teen to the supermarket on the weekly grocery run (other than perhaps taking a toddler!). But with some advance guidelines, your teen can make choices about what she wants to eat – and you may discover she'd happily snack on grapes instead of cookies every night if they were in the fridge.
Model Healthy Eating
If you have a diet soda for breakfast and chips for dinner, or stand at the counter to have a quick snack before rushing off to an evening meeting, don't expect your teen to eat healthy, balanced meals. Studies show that teenagers who eat at least five sit-down meals a week with their families are up to 35% less likely to have eating disorders.
Developing teenagers have a different internal clock than adults, which often means they stay up too late and have a hard time waking up and getting to school. Tired people make bad food choices in a bid to boost their energy, such as eating the wrong foods or eating too much food. If you can't convince your child to go to bed earlier – or the school to start later – provide healthy grab-and-go food options for your teen to eat.
Much of what your teen eats is influenced by what she sees other eat – her peers, celebrities she admires and advertising. Adults know that occasional unhealthy options won't hurt a healthy diet, but most adults also know how hard it is to break a bad eating habit. Offering a teen healthy alternatives that they like and are also popular with their role models helps establish healthy habits (and yes, some healthy alternatives cost more than the unhealthy choice):
- Instead of soda, buy a sparkling water maker for your home and keep a selection of your teen's favorite fruits in the freezer to add some flavor and fun.
- Homemade pizza can be far healthier than fast-food pizza by adding veggies toppings or a cauliflower crust.
- Kale chips, banana chips and sweet potato chips are healthy options instead of a bag of traditional potato chips. Homemade or store bought, smart chips can satisfy a crave and mindless TV munching.
Diet Fads Aren't All Bad
Many teen girls experiment with fad diets to achieve a goal weight or in response to a social issue – such as vegetarian, high protein-low carb, or “clean eating.” When a teenage girl suddenly starts a fad diet, she may only know some of the facts. Instead of trying to convince her to abandon the diet, help her follow her chosen diet in a healthy way that provides the nutrients she needs. Your teen is smart, but she requires education and information to get all the facts and make smarter choices.
Teens are notorious for bad eating habits – and teenage girls even more so. Good nutrition during the teen years is crucial for girls to prevent disease, develop healthy food habits, and fuel their minds and bodies. #YouGoGirl!
Catherine Russell is Būband's Content Manager