Curing teens of junk food hunger
New Zealand’s favourite wellbeing expert answers readers’ questions about their health and wellbeing. My teen seems to be consuming a lot of junk food. I don’t buy it but I notice the wrappers in the car. Howcan I stop this from happening? We eat well as a family but I feel like they have developed these habits at school. Thank you, Susan.
Hi Susan. In the world where we are surrounded by food advertisements, it’s no wonder that many children/teenagers are attracted to these types of foods. From a taste perspective there’s no doubt that fat, sugar and salt taste ‘good’ and these are typically plentiful in processed foods. Having a discussion about the importance of ‘real food’ with your teenager is certainly more necessary now than in previous generations.
Depending on what motivates them – it can be beneficial to discuss the concept of nourishing your body, your vehicle for life – and using our food/or nutrition to do so. If they’re interested, discussing that vitamins and minerals actually keep us alive and these are found in ‘real food’ – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds etc can be helpful. Also bringing awareness to consumption of foods is key – as typically people consume food with little awareness as to how these foods actually make them feel.
Ask your teen to notice this. Does he/she feel fuelled after consuming food ‘xyz’ versus when they consume a real food snack such as a piece of fruit, or a handful of raw nuts. And does he/ she feel like they are eating these foods because they’re readily available and accessible? Are they eating these foods for hunger or because they’re bored, sad, frustrated, tired?
If you can understand their motivation to eat poor quality food you are more likely to be able to find a solution. In consultations, I would always ask the teen what they care about and link good quality food choices to the outcomes they seek.
While I don’t believe you should ‘ban’ your teen from having poor quality food, (typically this just makes it more appealing and more likely that your child will overindulge when he/she is around these foods at a friend’s house, a birthday party or school for example). The ultimate goal is to get them to the point where they don’t want to choose these foods in the first place – or they notice that if they consume them regularly that they don’t feel fantastic.
Providing healthy snack alternatives is key. Often it is snack foods that let people down, as these are the most convenient to buy not so nourishing options. Most of this is availability and access. So work with them to provide healthy snacks. Get them involved in preparing a batch of bliss balls for the family, or baking some roast vegetable frittatas etc. Most of all be patient, persistent and kind, the habits that are established now matter both to today and their future. I would like to incorporate at least one more serving of vegetables daily. Do you have any suggestions for howI can do this without really noticing it! Thanks, Charlotte.
Hi Charlotte – You can always eat more vegetables. In the rush of life, a few days can slip by where we might not have consumed enough vegetables.
Establish some regular habits such as drinking a vegetable juice or green smoothie, adding a salad to your lunch, or ordering a side of vegetables when dining out. Or when you’re at home prepare vegetables and a salad, grate vegetables into your main dishes or take raw vegetable sticks with a homemade pesto or hummus as a snack. With habits like this, you’re able to amp up your vegetable intake while still juggling the many aspects of life.