UW Medicine pediatrician, Mollie Greves Grow, M.D.,MPH, has a special interest in working with families struggling to help their children and teens attain and maintain a healthy weight. The key to success, says Grow, is to start teaching your children about the importance of good nutrition early and making healthy choices easy.
"Start by offering your children a variety of healthy foods — fruits, vegetables and whole grains — but give them some choices," says Grow. "Kids, especially teens, want to have a say in what they eat. So let them help you draw up the grocery list and decide what's going to be on the menu for dinner. Encourage them to pick out new recipes to try, and get them involved by having them help prepare meals. Once we've learned how to cook good food, it's harder to go back to junk food."
A family that eats together stays healthy together
Grow suggests having the family sit down and eat together, whenever possible. "Use these meals as opportunities to teach your children about the idea of a healthy plate – one with a balance of fruits, vegetables, grains and a protein, such as a lean meat or fish, served in reasonably sized portions. The
U.S. Department of Agriculture's "MyPlate" website has great guidance for preparing balanced meals. Numerous studies have shown that children from families that sit down for dinner together tend not only eat better, but also to be happier, more successful in school and less likely to use drugs and alcohol."
Put a lid on sugary drinks
Keeping sugary drinks out of your home is one of the most effective things you can do to help reduce your family's risk of obesity, says Grow. "Sugary drinks are engineered to be tasty to young people and they are heavily marketed to teens," she says. "But they have lots of empty calories and are one of the major causes of weight gain in children and teens."
Allow teens to explore nutrition options
The teen years are a time of exploration and that often includes exploring different diets, such as vegetarianism. Grow recommends parents avoid opposing these choices and instead use them as an opportunity to teach teens about different aspects of nutrition. "Food choice can be a hot button issue for teens and opposing their choices can trigger a lot of unnecessary conflict," she says. "Instead, work with your teen so he or she can experiment with a new diet, but still get all the nutrients they need. We often see iron deficiencies in teens who are trying out a vegetarian or vegan diet, as well as low levels of calcium and vitamin D. But these deficiencies can often be avoided with proper food choices and a daily multivitamin."
Make healthy eating easy
Most teens are ‘on-the-go,' and they want foods that are fast and convenient, says Grow. And that's one reason fast food is so appealing. "Make it easy to make healthy food choices," she says. "Prepare "grab-and-go" food at home."
Grow suggests keeping fresh, ready-to-go snacks in the refrigerator — celery, carrots and yogurt — and have fruit out that can be eaten on the run. Also, make healthy sandwiches ahead of time and keep them in the freezer so they can be quickly added to school lunches during the week or taken along for a snack later in the day.
"Teaching your children to eat a healthy diet can be an uphill battle," Grow acknowledges. "The food industry is huge and it is spending millions and millions of dollars a year marketing high-sugar, high-fat junk food to your teen. But with education — and your example — you can help your teen learn to make the smart, healthy choices that will make them look and feel better today and avoid the long-term health problems that come with poor nutrition."
To make an appointment with a primary care physician or nutrition expert, call 855-520-5151.
Try preparing this simple main dish with your teen. It combines chicken, black beans, corn and whole-wheat tortillas for a taste of the Southwest your entire family will enjoy!
American Heart Association
Yield: 4 servings
About $2.36 per serving
1 pound chicken breasts, sautéed and cooled
1 (15.5 oz.) can low-sodium black beans, rinsed
1 (10 oz.) package frozen corn (thawed) or 1 (15 ¼ oz.) can no-salt added or low-sodium whole kernel corn, drained and rinsed
3 teaspoons salt-free mild chili powder, divided
12 taco sized whole wheat or corn tortillas
1 (14.5 oz.) can no-salt added or low-sodium tomato purée
½ cup fat-free sour cream
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- In a large bowl, add the cooled chicken. Let kids shred the chicken with their fingers. Then, have them add black beans, corn, and 1 teaspoon chili powder to bowl with chicken and let kids mix together with spoon.
- Wrap 12 tortillas in 2 to 3 damp paper towels and heat in microwave until warm, about 1 to 1½ minutes.
- Spray a baking dish with cooking spray. On a cutting board, place 1 warm tortilla and have kids add about 1½ spoonfuls of mixture in a line down the middle of the tortilla. Roll the tortilla up and use a toothpick to hold together. Place in the baking dish. Repeat with other tortillas. Any extra meat mixture leftover can be poured on top of rolled tortillas.
- In a small bowl, have kids mix 2 teaspoons chili powder, tomato purée, and sour cream. Have them stir mixture and then pour on top of rolled tortillas. Bake in oven until warmed, about 15 to 20 minutes.
For a quicker meal, 2 cups shredded chicken from half of a rotisserie chicken or 2 (10 oz.) cans salt-free white meat chicken (drained) can be used instead of the chicken breasts.
Keep it healthy:
Make sure the chili blend is salt-free; also, since blends vary from brand to brand, taste it to check how mild it is before using.
Warming the corn tortillas in the microwave before rolling into enchiladas is a necessary step—the warmed tortillas bend nicely. Cold corn tortillas break very easily, which makes rolling into enchiladas not a success.
Calories: 485 Total Fat: 4.5 g Saturated Fat: 1.0 g Trans Fat: 0.0 g Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.5 g Monounsaturated Fat: 1.0 g Cholesterol: 78 mg Sodium: 499 mg Carbohydrates : 81 g Dietary Fiber: 12 g Total Sugars: 13 g Protein: 41 g