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What Should I Do if My Teenager is Completely Disinterested in Healthy Eating and Good Nutrition

I often hear from parents of teenagers who are anxious about their child's health and nutrition. They are concerned that their child has poor eating habits, and they are even more concerned that their teenager seems completely disinterested in healthy eating. I understand where that concern is coming from. As parents, we love our children! We don't want anything bad to happen to them. We want them to make good choices, but they sometimes make bad choices. This leads to all that anxiety and worry.

teenager eating takeout food

As parents, we sometimes think that we are in control of our children. When they are babies, we are, to a large extent, in control of what they eat and what they do. But that control quickly disappears as our children become toddlers, school aged children, and then teenagers. At that point, even when we do have control over something, we have to think twice if it is worthwhile to exert that control.

It is at that juncture that parents worry about their child's choices. The parent wants their teenager to do what the parent thinks is right. This is especially so in areas that affect a child's health and wellbeing, such as good nutrition. A teenager might express complete disinterest to healthy eating, and the parent worries what will become of their child's health long term.

I think the first and most important point to remember is that we are not our children. They are their own people. At some point, there are certain decisions we can't force on them. Turning nutrition into a fight is never worth it. It is not worth hurting your relationship with your teenager over candy, fast food, vegetables, or physical activity. You can't force an interest in something they are not interested in.

Most likely, when your teenager gets a bit older, they will on their own take an interest in their health and nutrition. In the meantime, focus on what they are interested in now. Foster and encourage their interests--whether they are health-related or not.

You might ask, "what if my child has particularly unhealthy hobbies, like playing sedentary video games all day or baking desserts?" I think that there are skills these hobbies can teach, and you can focus on those: patience and problem solving from video games can later be used with forming new healthy habits, and food preparation skills from baking can be applied later with new foods. At the same time, you can also encourage interest in new activities. Maybe go kayaking or hiking together on a weekend or sign up for a cooking class together.

As a parent, you are not responsible for every choice your teenager makes. You can do your part: set up the environment in a way that makes healthy choices easier, purchase healthy food, and prepare healthy food. Once you've done your part, focus your attention on keeping a positive relationship with your teen. Allow food to become a non-issue in your mind. At worst, you will raise a child with poor eating habits, but you will have a good relationship with them.

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