Despite the best intentions, a tween's lunch money typically goes for chicken nuggets and pizza, even if she knows better. Peer pressure and taste buds dictate lunch line decisions. In 2003, Harvard University published a list of the 10 worst foods for kids, as determined by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Many of the foods that were considered the worst -- hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, pizza, and ice cream -- are staples in school cafeterias.
If your child is used to choosing among these options, the changes you want her to make will need to be made gradually. Discuss healthier alternatives for what she already likes, such as choosing a turkey sandwich instead of a fried chicken sandwich. Suggest that make her meals more balanced by adding nutritious foods (a carton of 2% milk, a salad, an apple) when she chooses less-than-healthful options (chicken fingers or fish sticks).
- More: About.com Pediatrics Diet Makeover
Staying informed of the choices your child has is half the battle. Check to see if your tween's lunch menu is available on her school's website, and help her identify the best choices. Stay abreast of what foods are available at school, including vending machines, and take the time the discuss the best options when she hits those up, too.
Some examples of better snack choices from vending machines are:
- Animal crackers
- Fig bars
- Graham crackers
- Whole wheat crackers
Remember, drinks account for a lot of the calories kids and teens take in. When discussing your child's favorite beverages, offer suggestions for healthier alternatives, such as trying a low-fat smoothie at lunch instead of soda. It's easy for healthy sounding beverages to seem "OK" to kids when they're not. Example? I remember drinking fruit punch as a young teen and thinking, "It tastes like fruit, so it must be as good for me as fruit juice." Whole milk, fruit punch, and sports drinks can be just as high in calories as a can of soda.
Find out if soda machines are on school premises. While some schools are removing soda machines from their campuses after receiving criticism, don't assume your child's school has followed suit. Encourage your tween to purchase low-fat milk or water from drink vending machines, if they are available.
- More from About.com Pediatrics: Drink Calories
- Encourage your tween to discuss her concerns about weight gain or loss with you.
- Normal weight gain during tween years varies according to height, so make a point to discuss appropriate weight gain with your pediatrician.
- Try to keep your focus on your tween's nutritional needs rather than her wants.
- Switch up the activities you do together to prevent your child from becoming bored. Try to come up with one new, fun activity each weekend.
Andersen R.E., Crespo C.J., Bartlett S.J., et al. Relationship of Physical Activity and Television Watching with Body Weight and Level of Fatness Among Children: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of the American Medical Association. 25 Mar 1998; 279(12):938-42.
Birch L.L. and Fisher J. Development of Eating Behaviors Among Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. Vol. 101 No. 3 Supplement March 1998; 539-549.
Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. Preventing Childhood Obesity November 2003 Update. 1 April 2008.
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health. Centers for Disease Control. SHPPS - School Health Policies and Programs Study. 23 March 2008.