Battle Teen Obesity with Healthy Family Meals

The nation’s teens face a weighty issue: almost one in five are obese. A new study in the American Heart Journal suggests that it is not genes, but unhealthy habits, that contribute most to adolescents’ extra pounds.

Another new study, this one in Health Education & Behavior, offers an antidote. What happens at home has a strong influence in teens’ health habits.

Good food basics

During the turbulent teen years, the family dinner table serves as a source of comfort and stability. “Parents can make a difference in their child’s health, one meal at a time,” says Sumana Narasimhan, MD, pediatric endocrinologist and Director of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight program at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “Putting healthy foods on the menu for family meals can help adolescents form positive habits that last the rest of their lives.”

Aim to sit down together at least four nights per week. Make sure your meals include the basics for a healthy diet, such as:

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains instead of white or refined breads and pastas
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Lean meats, fish, beans, eggs and nuts
  • Limited saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and sugar

Putting it together

So, how do you transform these ingredients into healthy, tasty meals for your whole clan? A little advance planning and some helping hands do the trick.

  • One day each week, sit down and plan seven days of healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Make a shopping list based on your meal plan. Hit the store when it is less crowded and you are not tired or hungry; it will be easier to buy only what you need.
  • Make small changes to reduce fat and boost nutrients. “For example, use part-skim instead of whole-milk mozzarella in your lasagna,” says Dr. Narasimhan. “Or swap a chocolate cake for angel food cake with strawberries.”
  • Ask your teens to peel and slice veggies, flip pancakes or form meatballs. “Getting your kids involved in meal preparation can help motivate them to try healthy new foods,” Dr. Narasimhan says.
  • Stock your pantry with healthy basics. Staples like brown rice, frozen vegetables and canned beans form the foundation of healthy suppers.

narasimhan-sumana Sumana Narasimhan, MD
Pediatric Endocrinologist
UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital

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