How to Help Your Busy Teenager Eat Well to Prevent Eating Disorders

Many teenagers today are juggling multiple responsibilities that can overload their schedules and make it difficult to do simple things that are important for their self-care, like eating regularly. For a growing teen who is undergoing an enormous transition in their life, physically, mentally, and emotionally, getting adequate nutrition is an important aspect of their well-being.

Teenagers who are constantly on the go may be skimping out on their nutrition. Surveys have found that a majority of adolescents are failing to meet their dietary needs to support nutrient requirements for this critical period of growth [1]. Some of the crucial nutrients that adolescents and teenagers are commonly lacking include [2]:

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Fiber
  • Vitamin A

Overall, studies have found that percentages of youths consuming the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats are lower than the targeted percentages [2]. Helping your teenager improve their eating habits can support their health for years to come and create a foundation that helps prevent chronic conditions like feeding issues, health concerns, and eating disorders.

Encouraging Positive Eating Behaviors

If you have a busy teenager who is constantly on-the-go, there are simple ways you can encourage positive eating behaviors to ensure they are getting adequate nutrition to thrive.

Check out these suggestions below to support the health and wellness of your teenager:

  1. Be the Example: Ultimately, teenagers are more influenced by the behaviors they observe than by verbal instructions of what to do. If they see their parents and/or caregivers modeling healthy eating behaviors, such as taking the time to eat balanced meals/snacks and participating in family meals, they will be more inclined to do the same. Take the time to reflect on your own attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions around food. Are you prioritizing family meals and feeding yourself adequately? This is an important first step in teaching your teenager to do the same, no matter how busy your schedule might be.
  2. Carve Out Time For Family Meals: Between all the activities that your family members are involved in, it can seem nearly impossible to find a time to get everyone together for a meal. However, family meals are essential for staying connected. Being deliberate about prioritizing this time together can bring your family together over a shared meal. Remember that family meals don’t have to be elaborate to be beneficial. Even getting take-out or eating together at a restaurant counts as a family meal, so be intentional about creating this time together. Put this time on everyone’s calendar so all family members understand that meals together are non-negotiable.
  3. Grocery Shop with Your Teen: Allow your teenager to participate in grocery shopping. This simple step can empower them to be more involved in the decisions that go into planning family meals and create opportunities for them have more responsibility for their own food choices. You can use this time to encourage their ideas of what foods they might like or prefer to have in the home, and this can help support their ability to plan meals and snacks for themselves when needed.
  4. Plan-out Meals Together: Along with participating in grocery shopping, teenagers can also help plan out meals for the family. You may even consider delegating one meal a week that your teenager is responsible for planning and preparing. These types of activities encourage participation and a hands-on approach to eating that can support healthy eating habits over the long-term. You’re also empowering your teenager with a crucial skill that will benefit them in caring for themselves as they become more independent and autonomous. When planning out meals, be sure to take your teen’s preferences into consideration and remember that all foods can fit as part of a balanced meal.
  5. Educate and Communicate: Many teenagers may truly not know any better when it comes to eating, and as parents, there is a tremendous opportunity for education and gentle guidance. When nutrition is approached as a tool for self-care, this can empower your teenager to put the time and effort into eating regularly, consistently, and adequately. Remember to communicate with your teenager about food in a neutral way without demonizing any foods or putting added pressure on your teen to eat certain things, as this method can often backfire.

Your teenager may be busier than ever, but by staying connected through family meals, being a positive role model for self-care, and giving your teenager opportunities to be involved with mealtime, you can help support positive eating habits in your adolescent no matter their age. These foundational steps can also serve as a powerful foundation for the prevention of eating disorders in your adolescent.

If you are concerned about your teen’s health and well-being or if you have observed problematic eating behaviors, please connect with our team at The Meadows Ranch today. The adolescent years are a crucial time of transition and growth for your child. If you think your adolescent needs more support with their eating, contact us to learn more about how we might be able to help guide your child and your family toward complete wellness.


[1]: Debby Demory-Luce, PhD, RD, LDKathleen J Motil, MD, PhD; “Adolescent Eating Habits”, Accessed 7 August 2018

[2]: Larson NI, et al. Trends in adolescent fruit and vegetable consumption, 1999-2004 Am J Prev Med. 2007;32(2):147.