Over the years, I’ve wondered what it was going to be like when all three of our girls hit their teen years. Now that we’re here, I can tell you that it’s loud, lively, and not always easy, but not nearly as terrifying as I had imagined. On a good day, teenagers are some of the most interesting, funny, and thoughtful people to be around. Parenting them has no shortage of challenges, and conflicts at the table is no exception. Take comfort in something my doctor once told me several years ago when I was fretting over my oldest child’s food choices, “I’m pretty sure my daughter subsisted almost entirely on the aisles of 7-11 for the better part of her freshman year in high school,” she said.  “It eventually passed and she’s fine now.”

With that in mind, here are some pointers on parenting your own teen when it comes to food and feeding.

1.Invite their input.

All kids, and teens in particular, want some control over their choices. Ask your child for ideas when you’re heading to the market or leave a shopping list taped to the fridge and invite them to chime in.

2. Look for healthy “convenience” foods.

Teens don’t often want to take the time to prepare and eat something nutritious, so have good choices on hand they can grab on the go: hard boiled eggs, sliced turkey, popcorn, cut up vegetables, easy to peel tangerines, all-juice fruit pops, single-serve containers of hummus, yogurt, mini whole-grain bagels and cream cheese, cubed melon in the fridge, and so forth.

3. Encourage them to cook.

By this time they are quite capable. Help them pick out a cookbook or explore recipes on the web. Give them room to make a mess and to have a some failures. Praise successes lavishly.

4. Make meals count.

The teen years are key ones for nutrition. They need loads of calcium, iron, protein, and other nutrients to support growth and brain development. When it’s mealtime, pack in the nourishment, and then, back off. It’s up to them to make decisions about what to put on their plate.

5. Tune in. 

The teen years are, in part, about experimentation, which includes tinkering with food choices. Be aware, though, that this exploration doesn’t teeter too heavily into dieting, restrictive eating, or disordered thinking about food or their body. A sudden desire to go on a cleanse, become a vegan, eliminate entire food groups, and the like can be code for an eating issue. Start a dialog about your concerns and seek the help of a professional if need be.

6. Remind yourself, you are still the boss.

Teens may not want to sit down to dinner, they may want cookies for breakfast, but it’s still your house and you get to set the rules. That said, giving them a little latitude doesn’t hurt.

7. Share meals.

There is no better way to stay connected than looking each other in the eyeballs over a meal. Keep this a priority, even when life gets complicated and teenagers get moody.

8. Remember you’ve done your work.

You’ve laid the ground work for a lifetime of healthy eating. They may experiment, but at the core, they will know what is good for them.

9. Be a role model.

This is perhaps more important than ever. Demonstrating both healthy eating habits and modeling a healthy attitude towards your own body is essential.

10. Lighten up

There are worse things that could happen than having your teen skip an occasional meal and worse places they could go than the drive thru. It’s what they eat day in day out, not once in a while, that matters.

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