Try to teach your child about the importance of a well-balanced meal. Have her demonstrate that knowledge by packing her own lunch, or occasionally planning family dinners. Make sure she has half the plate filled with fruits and vegetables.
Try to talk to your child about the food she’s eating when you’re not around. If she is into sports, highlight the importance of a healthy diet to her athletic performance. If she’s concerned about her complexion, highlight the impact of healthy foods and water to a clear complexion. When you explain the benefits of healthy eating as it applies to things she’s particularly concerned about, she may be more likely to take your advice.
Keep items in your kitchen healthy. If you buy chips or cookies, your child will eat them. When she's helping herself to snacks in the kitchen, making healthy choices is easy if it's the only choice she has. And if you can’t control what she eats out of the house, you can at least make sure what she’s eating at home is healthy.
Let your child prepare some meals on her own. Try letting your tween be in charge of dinner once a month so that she can demonstrate her cooking skills. Get her involved in meal planning, have her decide on a recipe, and prepare it for the family. She may try something new the family hasn’t tried before, which can be a good learning experience for the entire family while also boosting her self-esteem and competence in the kitchen.
Make time for healthy family meals. It allows you to model healthy eating and is a good time to catch up with your active child.
Keep meal time free of technological distractions. This will encourage your child to listen to her body and realize when she’s full and when she’d like more.
Keep an eye out for mindless snacking while doing homework, talking on the phone, or watching television. It’s easy for a tween to not pay attention to snacks while multitasking. If your child has a problem with this, you can make snacking permitted only in the kitchen.
Have your child prepare her own smoothies for breakfast. It gives her the ability to make healthy choices while also the independence of making breakfast herself. Ingredients like bananas, frozen berries, low-fat Greek yogurt, and spinach are all good options to have on hand.
Have fruits on hand that are easy to pack, like oranges, apples, and bananas for your on-the-go tween. These fruits can easily be tucked into a backpack and eaten on the go.
Try adding fruits to salads. If your child enjoys salads, try adding apples, grapes, or dried fruits to increase fruit intake while adding a different flavor to the salad.
Try to make as many meals at home as possible. Your child may be eating more away from home at this age, which can mean her intake of sodium is going up. Encourage your child to choose fresh, healthy foods when she’s not with you.
Always check the labels when buying packaged foods. Products like frozen dinners and snack foods can be high in sodium. Choosing low-sodium over high-sodium options is an easy way to decrease your child’s sodium intake. Teach your tween to look for snack products with less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Don’t leave a salt shaker on the table. If you’d like to have added flavor available, try making your own herb mix to keep on the table. Garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano or thyme are good options to mix together to add flavor without adding sodium.
Stay away from harmful trans fats. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list, this means there is trans fat in the product, even if the front of the label says “0 trans fats.”
Try cooking with olive or canola oils instead of butter or margarine. It’s an easy substitution to make, and you’re swapping in healthier fats.
Add ground flax meal to breads, pancakes, or waffles. You can even sprinkle ground flax onto cereals for added healthy fats.
Try to make sure your child gets two servings of fish each week. Certain fish, like salmon and sardines, contain important healthy fatty acids.
Teach your child about moderation. It may be ok for her to have treats at birthday parties or other events, but not every day.
If you can, buy your child a re-usable water bottle to pack in her lunch, carry at school, and take to after-school activities. If she has water handy, she may be less likely to choose soda or sports drinks to quench her thirst.
Try to let your child add more natural sweetness to her cereals, yogurts, and other foods. Fruits, a small amount of honey, or cinnamon can be good ways to naturally sweeten foods. But even with natural sugars, moderation is key.
Try varying your preparation for vegetables to keep from getting burnt out on one type. If you normally steam or sauté vegetables, try grilling or even roasting them until they’re golden and crispy. Vegetables are easy to roast and become sweeter when roasted. This is a great way to try to get your child to eat Brussels sprouts.
Try an at-home cooking competition. If your child has siblings, give each child the same vegetables and ask them to prepare them for the family to taste test. A friendly competition can get everyone thinking about new ways to eat vegetables.
Switch up your child’s sandwich (or have her make her own) by adding different vegetables such as avocado, roasted red peppers, or hummus. Incorporating these vegetables not only increases her vegetable intake, but also adds a new flavor to the standard sandwich.
Try having a “veggie night” once a week. Serve veggie dogs or veggie burgers, hummus with cut vegetables like broccoli and cucumbers, and baked sweet potato fries. Committing to one night a week will challenge both you and your child to try vegetables in different ways and see them as more than just a side dish.
Try hummus as a snack. You can have your child make homemade hummus or choose from the varieties available at the store. Chickpeas, (which hummus is made from), are high in protein, fiber, and iron, which make them a great healthy choice for your growing tween.
Make up your own trail mix by adding nuts like walnuts, almonds, and pistachios with dried fruits for on-the-go healthy snacks.
Swap out beef with poultry or fish in some of your favorite recipes to increase your child’s lean-meat consumption. Ground turkey is a good substitute in hamburgers and casseroles. In tacos, try using a white flaky fish like tilapia, or use a combination of black beans and low-fat refried beans for a non-meat taco.
Edamame, or immature soybeans, in their shell can be a fun and healthy snack or appetizer and a good way to increase protein and vegetable intake.
Add new grains to meals to increase whole grains. Try to cook brown rice with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and add black beans, greens, and salsa for a healthy dinner bowl.
Try incorporating oats into breakfast for more whole grains. For families who are busy in the mornings, try making overnight oats. Combine ½ cup of rolled oats, ½ cup milk, fruit, and nuts in a jar. Place it in the refrigerator overnight and the next morning breakfast is ready to go. You could also make a large batch of oatmeal the night before and warm it up in the morning.
Always read the label on grain products and teach your tween how to do so also. The first ingredient should be whole grains.
Use non or low-fat milk when preparing cereal, oatmeal, or soup instead of water. This is an easy way to increase your child’s dairy intake without pouring her a glass of milk.
Add yogurt or low-fat milk to a smoothie. This is an easy way to add dairy to snacks or breakfast.
Try milk substitutes for children with lactose intolerance. Fortified almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk can be good options to make sure she gets calcium and vitamin D.