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Nutrition: How do we talk to our pre-teens and adolescents about food?

Nutrition: How do we talk to our pre-teens and adolescents about food?

Having weathered the food woes of the fussy-eating-primary-school-aged child you are now facing talking to your pre-teen/ adolescent about food.

You may have seen some pre-pubescent weight gain, or some impulse control issues with comfort eating sneaking in, or you just want to set up a healthy relationship with food for them as the apron strings start to let out and you realise that you aren’t the only source of food in their lives anymore.

We also haven’t forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. The body changes so much in this phase of life and so our nutrition needs change along with it.

This chapter of life sees teens comparing themselves to their peers more than any other so that they can fit in – its evolutionarily hard wired into us!

It’s guaranteed that their peers are talking about diets and “getting skinny” and if they aren’t, then your kid is probably seeing it on social media.

Then there is the half of the peer group that haven’t yet evolved their social filter, and to the bully, your kids changing body shape is the first go-to in their arsenal.

Adding to all the stress of all of this for parents is the knowledge of the devastating effects eating disorders can have on an individual’s and family’s life.

As with any topic we discuss with our teens, we want them to learn to independently make good choices about food but are also acutely aware that disordered eating often starts with this age group and how messaging can go really wrong!

Fortunately, the advice for addressing food and nutrition with your pre-teen is not so different to the advice we give about talking to them about most other issues.

Nutrition: How do we talk to our pre-teens and adolescents about food?

So here are six tips (in no particular order):

1. Be a positive role model – By this we mean show, not just tell, your kid what is nutritious… put it on the dinner table and eat it alongside them.

2. Encourage some autonomy by encouraging your adolescent to weigh up risks and benefits – You may have heard of “Everyday-Foods” vs “Sometimes-Foods,” introduce some discussion around how often sometimes really is.

3. Use family routines to give your teenager’s eating habits structure – sit down and eat dinner as a family. Yes…. it’s the same advice we gave when you had a fussy pre-schooler on your hands… Meals should still be a social time and if dinner with the family is regularly at 7pm, teach them not to snack at 6.30pm.

4. Provide boundaries and set them up for success with those boundaries – If your teenager is going to be home for periods of time on their own, don’t keep oodles of junk food and soft drink in the house for them to gorge themselves on.

5. Stay connected - Prepare meals together and get them involved in meal planning and shopping. Discuss food with them in terms of health and nutrition rather than diet, shape, or weight.

6. Encourage them to talk about feelings – Feelings can be discussed over diner, meal preparation or going for a walk. And remember, if you model self-soothing your rough day at work with half a tub of ice-cream after dinner, they will pick these habits up too.

Of course, if you are concerned your teen is displaying signs of disordered eating then we urge you to seek professional help.


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