As a parent, you have worked to make sure that your offspring remain healthy and happy. As teenagers, they grow ever closer to leading their own independent, adult lives. It is, therefore, imperative that they are equipped for maintaining their own health and happiness. One aspect of making positive nutrition choices is being able to decode the information on food packaging. This is something that a lot of adults struggle with, so your teen will have a little bit of trouble at first. Luckily, they have you to help them make smart decisions about what to put in their bodies and to show them how to continue making those choices on their own.
At the beginning, limit the information on which you focus. A health-conscious consumer presented with a label will find a preponderance of information. That is overwhelming. Instead of trying to take it all in, get your teen to look at key pieces of information.
- Start with the ingredients. Your teen should be on the lookout for foods they recognize, rather than chemicals and dyes. Be wary of lots of parentheses. The shorter the ingredient list, the better.
- Be aware of the serving size. Often, manufacturers use tricky small servings sizes to limit the number of calories. Teach your teen to compute the full number of calories for the amount they are eating.
- Prioritize what is being eaten over the number of calories. Eating 200 calories of sunflower seeds is better than having a 100-calorie pack of cheese crackers. Teach them to think of calorie quality before calorie quantity.
- Be aware of the fat source. Many healthy foods contain healthy fats, so you should be eating them. It is better to have some “fatty” avocado than it is to have low-fat cookies.
- Look at the total amount of sugar. Teach your teen that both naturally occurring and added sugar will be recorded. But, you want to limit the amount regardless.
- Fiber matters. Most people in the US only eat half the daily recommended amount of fiber. Teach your teen to look for high fiber items that use whole food fibers, rather than isolated ones.
Your teen probably eats a lot because they are growing. This makes it even more important that they are mindful of the serving size on the package. But, you also want them to start being mindful of the amount they are eating and managing that to match what the package indicates. Yes, they can do the math and find out the number of total calories they are consuming from a package of chips, but it’s also good to look at a single serving and to try to eat that.
A lot of packaging is designed to confuse. Teach your teen to investigate claims made on the label. If a package of breakfast cereal advertises whole grains, does that mean the fiber you get is worth the amount of sugar you consume along with it? Fruit juice is all sugar, but does the immunity benefits you get from certain juices make consuming all that sugar ok? These questions can be answered by reading the label and making some informed decisions.
Teach your teen to use labels for comparison. If they want soup or cereal or bread, have them begin comparing the ingredients lists and nutritional facts of two different types of the food. This can be a way for them to make choices that are nutritionally wise. They can look for the item that is higher in fiber, lower in sugar or sodium, and/or contains more whole foods in the list of ingredients.
At some point, you may give your teen some practice charting what they end up eating to show them the relationship between their label reading and their diet. This isn’t something you have to do, but it can be valuable. Food diaries are gaining popularity as a way to make what we eat a mindful practice. It is awfully easy to become complacent and forget about what we are putting into our bodies. Minding labels keeps healthier items coming into the house, but how those items end up being eaten can really change their healthful properties. Some things are great when eaten in moderation, but a teen eating an entire package isn’t being moderate.
If your teen becomes incredibly interested in food labels and begins using information as a reason to avoid eating a lot of food, this may be the sign of disordered eating. Often, young people change their diets or establish strict nutritional rules to disguise how little they are actually eating. Be sure to teach your teen that nutrition and a balanced diet with the correct number of calories is the goal. If you feel they are being too hard on themselves, consider speaking to an expert about eating disorders so you can step in before a real problem develops.
Jeanine Worth is the mother of three grown children who now know a lot about healthy eating. She works as a school counselor at an elementary school and makes classroom presentations on healthy eating. Her writing career is just taking off; she hopes to continue publishing on parenting blogs and sites that talks a lot more about child’s behavioral problem, abusive behavior, addiction help and http://www.rehabcenters.com/free