Most parents expect their roles to change as their kids hit their teen years. But many don’t realize quite how much their children’s age affects the way they need to be fed.

Countless wonderful transformations occur inside the bodies of tweens and teens, and many directly affect the way they eat or relate to food. After infancy, adolescence is the second most critical time for nutritious eating. So some rethinking is in order.

WHAT’S CHANGING?

  • Hormone surges can make them moody, trigger sugar cravings and cause skin breakouts.
  • During major growth spurts, kids have increased caloric requirements and may seem insatiable.
  • Sports, extracurricular activities and homework schedules make it harder for them to sit down for a regularly scheduled family meal.
  • Sleep patterns change; if kids wake up later, they may not be hungry for breakfast before school.
  • Teens and tweens spend more time away from home, which means they eat more of their meals and snacks with peers.

INCREASING DEPENDENCE

  • Kids this age are — appropriately — in the process of separating from their parents. Some may wage food wars: complaining about foods they used to eat happily, demanding junk food just to be contrary or adopting a specific diet (Paleo, vegetarian) that’s different from the rest of the family’s.
  • These adolescent changes are normal, yet this doesn’t mean parents should abandon noble intentions to feed kids well.

GUIDELINES FOR PARENTS

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  • Continue to limit sugar at home; chances are they are getting enough elsewhere.
  • Keep healthful food accessible so they can grab it on the go. Conversely, don’t label some foods as “bad”; it can cause teens to feel guilty or bad about themselves when they eat them. This becomes amplified as a teen’s self-esteem wavers and he or she feels pressured to have a certain body shape.
  • Prioritize the family dinner.
  • Remember that food, especially unhealthful food, shouldn’t be used as a reward for good grades, a sports championship or any other win. And on the flip side, food — or denial of it — should not be used as a punishment.
  • Do not engage in battles over meals. Remove the emotion and stick to simple family rules of sitting down to dinner, using good manners and eating a little bit of everything.

A TALKING POINT

Remind your children why it is important to make healthful choices. Teens are old enough to understand the science behind why certain foods cause breakouts and plummet moods while other foods build muscle and energize.

A CONVERSATION YOU CAN HAVE

Do you want to keep your skin clear? Our skin is our largest organ and excretes pounds of toxins and wastes every day. What we eat can show up on our faces. Foods that support healthy skin include lots of water, blueberries and tomatoes for antioxidants, orange and yellow vegetables for Vitamin A, salmon and flaxseeds for Omega 3 fatty acids, pumpkin seeds for zinc, and fermented foods for healthy digestion. On the other hand, sugar, trans fats and allergenic foods such as gluten and dairy have all been shown to trigger skin inflammation, irritation and acne.

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MOOD AND ENERGY CONTROLHelp your body produce more of the chemicals that make you feel happy instead of those that make you feel low. The foods we eat build the neurotransmitters in our brain that contribute to feelings of happiness, joy and calm. Eating consistent amounts of protein throughout the day — eggs, fish, lean meats, beans, nuts and seeds — can really help maintain stable moods, as can consuming enough Omega-3 fatty acids. And sugar, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, food coloring and additives have been shown to dampen mood.