You want to improve your diet, but where to start? That’s the question we posed to Joy Bauer, a registered dietician, author of Food Cures, and the nutrition expert for NBC’s Today Show. In this interview, Bauer shares some easy—seriously, these really are easy—ways to improve your diet today, while also promoting lifelong wellness for your teenager.
Interview with Joy Bauer: Ways To Improve Your Diet
Q: What’s one simple way to make our diets healthier starting today?
Bauer: Incorporate a fruit or vegetable with every meal. For breakfast, make a fruit smoothie, sneak tomatoes into scrambled eggs or put berries on cereal. For lunch, add an apple, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, grapes, berries, broccoli, or cauliflower florets. Or, layer lettuce, tomato and cucumbers on a sandwich. Pick what you think your teenagers will eat. Experiment.
Q: That sounds easy! What else?
Bauer: Avoid buying sugary beverages. Out of sight, out of mind. If your teenagers occasionally go for soda or sugary fruity drinks, let them do that out of the house. But in the house, make it more about water. To mix it up, dilute 100 percent fruit juice with water or add a shot of fruit juice to naturally flavored seltzer water.
Q: As a mom, you understand. We want our teenagers to eat well, but we don’t want to nag about it day in and day out.
Bauer: Yes, and imagine you’re a mom with three teenagers and you write diet books! I’m on a mission to help my kids eat healthy, but not to make them nuts. I use a 90-10 approach: eat healthy 90 percent of the time; eat fun for the remaining 10 percent. But, you can only control what you can control — for example, the groceries you buy and the meals you make. At other times, you need to back off, let your teenagers make choices independently, and not cause stress around food. Don’t be the food police.
Q: What about when your teenager walks in the door hungry at 5:00 p.m., but dinner’s at 6:00 p.m.?
Bauer: I put out a plate of vegetables for them to eat and say, “Dinner is in an hour. Don’t open the closets. Don’t start eating because I’ve really gone to an effort to make this dinner.” I never make it about, “You’re going to get fat,” or “It’s too many calories,” or “It’s junk food.” It’s more about, “Eat these vegetables, and then we’ll have a dinner that you’re really going to enjoy.”
Q: Do you have dessert?
Bauer: Yes, but we control the portions. My younger daughter has a ferocious sweet tooth, and I’ve gotten clever at making sure there is a little nutrition with the sugar rush, like pops made with Greek yogurt.
Q: What are the mistakes?
Bauer: Remember with kids, it’s monkey see, monkey do. Joking about your thighs or your stomach is natural, but don’t loathe yourself in front of your teenagers or talk about calories and dieting all the time. Forging your own peaceful relationship with food will help them do the same. That being said, you don’t want to make weight talk a taboo, especially if your teenager has an issue or wants to make it a topic of conversation.
Q: And if we have an overweight teenager?
Bauer: If you’re really struggling, seek outside help to avoid stressing your relationship with your son or daughter. Enlisting an outsider to empower your teenager with a plan of action is better than you policing them all the time. Let them own it, and then do things under the radar, like not buying junk food, making healthy meals and adding produce to every meal.
Q: Do you mean a nutritionist?
Bauer: Yes, but interview them first to ensure it’s a good fit. Go to EatRight.org, a website run by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Enter your zip code for a list of registered dietitians and then make a short list of ones that work with teenagers. Then, interview some on the phone until you like what you hear.
Q: It can feel overwhelming to get a healthy dinner on the table some days. How do you do it?
Bauer: We’re all over-scheduled. When I make recipes, I double, triple, and even quadruple them. Then, I portion control and freeze them. Another tip: Create a list of five go-to meals that are healthy and no fuss. These should be meals you can whip together in under 20 minutes, not gourmet meals. For example, one of mine is spinach turkey burgers on a bun with a salad. Make sure you stock your house with the ingredients for at least two of your five go-to meals.
Q: Any parting words?
Bauer: When you start eating really well, you’re going to feel great. But, we all slip up, and you have to learn to forgive your slip-ups. A lot of people get into this pattern of, “It’s all or nothing. I’m going to turn the house around …” And then you have a week where one teenager is out late studying for the SAT and the other is in travel soccer, and you’re eating junk food in between games, while your husband is ordering pizza for the other kids at home. It happens. You can’t let it snowball. Start fresh and jump right back in.