Struggles over food happen at all ages, but it can be especially difficult for moms to get strong-willed teens to eat a balanced, nutritional meal. "My daughter won't eat breakfast, no matter what I try to serve ... and she will never drink water," says Circle of Moms member Gloria C. "What should I do?" she wonders.
Short of exaggerating the benefits of a healthy diet (Sonia B. tells her teens that eating right "clears up zits"), what can you do? To help, here are four tips from other moms who've wrestled with their teen's eating habits.
1. Don’t Force the Issue
The consensus among Circle of Moms members is that forcing teens to eat healthy foods doesn't tend to work. "Probably the most important thing about healthy eating is not to let it become a power struggle," says Rosemary R. "You can't make a teenager eat anything and stop them eating 'bad' things when they are out."
If you force the issue, Rosemary adds, it might backfire and "your teenager learns to use eating or not eating as a weapon, either just to wind you up, or as a bargaining tool ... If this gets a firm hold, it can lead to very unhealthy attitudes to eating."
2. Find Foods Your Teen Likes
Instead of forcing the issue, seize the opportunity to serve up a wide variety of healthy foods to discover which nutritious foods your teen actually likes. As Sharell D. recommends: "Try changing it up. Give her her favorite fruit or find out what she likes; flavored oatmeal, fruit in cereal, that's healthy."
On the fluids front, Sharell also suggests introducing her to different beverages, especially healthy compromises to water, "until you both find what she likes."
3. Disguise Healthy Foods
Some moms, including Louise G., suggest disguising healthy foods: "My teenagers don't like veggies much, so I hide them in things like lasagna," she says. "I'll put in grated carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers."
Vegetables can be easily hidden in other dishes she suggests, including "Shepherds pie with oven-baked cubed, potatoes, parsnips, and carrots on the top, and fajitas with peppers, onions and grated peppers."
4. Opt for Healthy Substitutes
If all else fails and your teen refuses to eat the healthy meals you serve up, many Circle of Moms members suggest offering your teen nutritional substitutes. "I know it's hard to do but sometimes you just have to face the fact they are not going to eat," says Johnnie K. "When my son and daughter were teens they wouldn't eat breakfast so I got them some Carnation breakfast [mix] that would break the fast [and] they would drink it on the way out."
Rebekah S. suggests giving your teens multivitamins. "I wouldn't worry too much, as long as your teenager is healthy and takes multi-vitamins, give it a rest."
"For my picky eater (near vegi-free), we try to get the nutrients in him from juice and vitamins," says Sherry B. "The the good stuff is going in, it doesn't really matter the source. It used to really worry me, but the pediatricians kept telling me that he's growing strong and healthy, so he's getting what he needs."
What works with your teen?
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