Thank you for your question! It sounds like your son eats a limited diet and you're concerned with how it may affect his health. Picky eating is common among toddlers and children, but your adolescent can be equally as fussy when it comes to food. Your son might be picky because he wants to control what he does or does not eat, or he is becoming more independent and has reasons why he will or won't eat certain foods. You can still feed your teen a nutritionally balanced, varied diet he needs for good health and growth, but simply preparing a meal and setting it in front of him may not be enough.
Here are some picky eater tips to try with your son:
- Educate: Encourage your son to take the free EatFresh.org Mini Course on his own to learn about nutrition in a fun, interactive way. Alternatively, you can have a conversation with your son about why it's important to eat a healthy diet. Don't lecture him, but teach him about balanced nutrition and how lack of it affects his health. Listen to his ideas and reasons for choosing certain foods over the healthy meals you offer. You can advise him to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy and lean protein foods. Also, let him know he should limit high-sugar, high-sodium, and high-fat foods. Praise him for his knowledge and thank him for his openness to learn about healthy food habits and allowing you to provide him with tools to make better choices at mealtimes and snacks. Chances are that his picky phase will pass quickly if you give him respect and independence to make healthy choices on his own.
- Cook Together: Invite your son to help you plan and make dinner. Together, you can come up with ideas for the meal, make a shopping list, shop for ingredients, and/or make the healthy recipes you selected. The more involved your teen feels in the food selection and cooking process, the more likely he is to eat what you make. Start involving your teen once or twice a week and encourage him to select a fruit/vegetable to complement the meal. You might also allow him to pack his own snacks/lunch and guide him in choosing healthy foods. Talk with him about nutritional value and health benefits of the foods he is preparing while he cooks.
- Sneak Foods In: If your son is very hesitant to try new foods, especially veggies, try sneaking them into into foods he already enjoys. Add vegetable purée into pasta sauce, pizza sauce, or soups. Sneak shredded vegetables like carrots or zucchini into homemade muffins. Add frozen berries to whole wheat pancakes, waffles, and baked goods. Serving new foods with foods your son already enjoys increases the chances that he will learn to enjoy them. Your responsibility is to provide healthy food and it's up to your teen to decide what and how much to eat from the healthy options.
- Lead By Example: This might be the most important point out of all of my suggestions. Model healthy eating habits for your son. Children and teens learn by example. Eat your fruits and vegetables in front of him and choose healthy snacks to eat together. Keep plenty of of nutritious options on hand, like hummus, vegetables, peanut butter, fruits, yogurt, string cheese, and whole grain crackers. As your son watches you make healthy selections, he will begin to follow your example.
Remember, you shouldn't cook special meals for your son just because he's picky with his food, but do include foods he enjoys. Don't turn mealtimes into battle of wills; it is important not to let your teen's pickiness become a source of mealtime tension and stress. Be patient with your son as he learns to eat a nutritionally balanced and varied diet to help him grow. I wish you the best!