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Changing Food Behavior: Move Over Junk Food, Hello Healthy Eating

While your ability to control what your family eats may have seemed more obvious when your children were younger, you can definitely still have an impact your teen’s eating habits, but you will need to be committed to changing food behavior to create and maintain healthy habits.

3 Idea to Help Teens Change Their Food Behavior:

1. Change your home environment so that the easiest choice is the healthier choice.

Think about the current food habits in your family. If you put out a bowl of M&Ms and everyone grabs the candy, next time try putting out a bowl of fruit. This change in food behavior does not need to be absolute. There can be an occasional treat that is yummy but not healthy. In addition, adults need to model whatever behavior they want their teens to adopt, which means reaching for the fruit instead of the potato chips when you get home from work.

2. Be intentional about family meals.

Parenting is not a part-time job. As busy as we are, we must carve time out to create a healthy routine. Meal time is critically important to healthy living, yet dinner time is one of our biggest challenges in light of everyone’s hectic schedules. We want to avoid those nights when everyone grabs whatever they find and shoves it in and class it dinner. Usually those selections are unhealthy.

Instead, if we want to change food behavior, we should all make a commitment to a dinner together as a family. Family dinner is an opportunity to serve a well-balanced meal while sitting together and checking in with each other. Teens will recognize the family as a support system even when they are not actively engaged. Dinners as a family will remind them that they have people around them who care.

3. If you want to make a dramatic change in your house, bring your teens along with you.

Involve them in your plans. Establish that changing eating habits is non-negotiable but that the details can be negotiated. Invite your teen to share in the process, from planning menus to making grocery lists, purchasing the ingredients, and then cooking the meal. This change is happening at home, but as teens are frequently away from their family, let your teen know that you understand you can’t control their decisions in your absence, but establish clear expectations. You are trying to fulfill your responsibility as a parent by arming your teens with skills for when they eventually leave home.

This is not an all or nothing proposition for every morsel of food you eat. Your goal in changing food behavior is to eat healthier food more often than not. These changes require persistence. You might meet with resistance early on. Stay strong and stay the course.

R. Scott Olds, M.D.

Dr. R. Scott Olds is a Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Kent State University’s College of Public Health with an interest in youth overweight and obesity prevention using community-based approaches.

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