Getting Teenage Son to Eat Healthier

Updated on March 27, 2011
P.H. asks from McKinney, TX
15 answers

My son is almost 13 and has terrible eating habits (which I take the blame for) and I thought I'd ask you all if you have any advice or suggesstions on how I can get him to eat better. He has been spoiled and allowed to chose what he wants to eat with each meal instead of what I eat or cook. The amount of things he will eat is very limited. I am also concered about his weight as he is overweight. I know this is a hard question to ask, but I thought it couldn't hurt to get ideas any of you might have. I really appreciate any ideas. Thank you.
The foods my son does like are pasta with parmesan (s?p) cheese, macaroni and cheese, bean and cheese burritos, mexican rice, ham, colby/jack cheese,nachos with beans and cheese and oh and he does like baked chicken. Does not like any vegetables. Does like apples and pears. Also will not drink plain milk, but only chocolate.
Writing all this down makes me realize just how spoiled I've made him! He loves chicken, but says he doesn't feel like it many times when I make it for him. I guess one thing to do is realize that I'm not a restaurant! I just want him to be as healthy as possible.

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

Featured Answers


answers from Dallas on

Is he active? When I'm working out I crave differant foods and am much more careful of what I eat than when I'm just being a lazy glutten in front of the tv. Maybe you could use the video game to bargain for healthy food - you can play 30 minutes if you eat this healthy meal and walk 2 times around the block. I think I would also get him in the kitchen. Assign him to be responsible for the family meal 1 night a week. Give him a theme - like Asian or Italian or something to get his creative juices flowing. Sign him up for cooking class or take him to Willaim Sonoma and Whole Foods free cooking classes. Once he takes an interest in food, his horizons will open up to include things he never thought he'd like.

3 moms found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Salt Lake City on

You could try roasting veggies....yams, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots....these taste fantastic roasted in the oven with some olive oil. Sprinkle some lemon juice on the broccoli before serving.

How about smoothies? You can throw spinach, cucumbers and carrots into smoothies without sacrificing flavor. Use yogurt or milk to thin/thicken it.

Finally, just flat out sit him down and tell him that you are making some changes to be healthier. Teach him about the benefits of eating healthy. Talk to him about obesity and diseases. Tell him that we need to treat our bodies with respect, and that means eating things we don't always love. DON'T stop trying....he'll get it eventually, and ANY change towards being healthier is a great thing!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I'm so proud of you turning this new leaf. The trick or most important thing will be getting him on board. Perhaps a trip to a local cooking school if you have one or making an appointment with a nutritionist will help too. He has to be a part of the process. Are you willing to change how you go about cooking and eating too?

This may turn into a family adventure. I would try to see it just that way. A great nutritionist would be able to help you find recipies that are healthy and tasty. Perhaps he has friends that are of a different nationality and don't eat the same way you do, perhaps they would be willing to help him try new things. Apples and pears are only two kinds of fruit but they do have the same kind of texture. Perhaps he likes that kind of texture in his fruits.

There are so many different kinds of vegetables and generally people only eat what they are familiar with and almost never venture out to try new tastes and textures.

Learning how to cook healthy and shop and all of that would be a great experience for you to expose him to as you all are making this change.

In my house we are just more willing to try new things that goes for cooking and eating. Also remember things cooked differently taste differently. Expand his horizons as you broaden your own. This doesn't have to be a battle of the wills but could be an adventure for all involved. There have to be many cookbooks that will interest you both. I love ones with pictures and less than 6 ingredients that aren't already in my kitchen.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Stop bringing junk food into the home. If it isn't there, he can't eat it. Cut out sweets, sugary cereals, processed things like hot pockets, drinks like coke/dr. pepper/kool-aid... I'm not saying never have yummy sweets, I'm saying limit what you bring in the home. If you want a special snack, bake a small, fresh batch of homemade cookies together after a healthy dinner has been eaten.

Instead of buying frozen appetizer type stuff like corn dogs, taco puffs... , you can make your own and it's healthier. Even exchanging sour cream with plain yogurt is a healthy substitute.

Snacks can be low-sodium chips and salsa, flavored rice cakes, peanut butter and raisins on celery sticks, turkey and veggie pita pockets, tomato basil hummus dip on whole wheat crackers, fruits and veggies, hard boiled eggs with salt and pepper, applesauce, english muffin pizza with low fat mozzarella and veggies, tuna salad and crackers, fresh guacamole and tortilla chips....

Make healthier meals and start out with portion control. He's old enough to help make dinner, set the table, clear the table and help do dishes. Make sure family dinner is eating together at the table and no snacking before hand.

Also, make sure he is getting at least 30 minutes of cardio a day, jumping jacks, sit-ups, walking, running a mile, soccer, tae kwon do, excersize video, wii fit, xbox kinect workout games... something to help him stay active.

You can take control of the situation, you and your family will be come closer and healthier for it

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

What sorts of things does he like to eat? You might be surprised (and so might he) to find that he likes plain foods and foods that are "raw". My 12 yr old doesn't care for, but will eat, steamed broccoli. Be he LIKES it raw. Neither of my 2 will eat cooked carrots, but raw ones are snapped up. Same with black olives... they eat them off my cutting board before they make it into the salad or onto the pizza. And red bell peppers.
We also started dipping fresh bread (baguettes) into seasoned olive oil with our meals sometimes... they LOVE that! (the bread isn't necessarily healthy, ha ha, but the olive oil has good fats, and it might help expand his tastes to include new things).

After reading your addition regarding what he DOES eat, I would add: If he likes chicken, then try to find a lot of ways to make it. Our kids love it grilled over any other way. But, I noticed something about his diet. It is ALL CARBS. ALL of it. (except maybe the cheese...not the cheese sauces... just the whole pieces of cheese). When you carb load, you feel bloated and, at least for me, I don't WANT any meat after I've eaten any quantity of carbs.
I realized this ONLY after doing a protein power diet a few years ago... (similar to adkins, but not adkins). I could go to a restaurant and eat a salad with ranch dressing (very little carbs) and eat my entire steak, and have room for a bite of dessert, then leave feeling satisfied but not stuffed. Add a couple of slices of that yummy bread they bring out first, and I couldn't even eat half my steak without feeling stuffed.
Sit and eat chips or pasta... then try to feel hungry for protein... ANY protein... it isn't going to happen.
Have him try peanut butter on his apple slices to get some protein. And try to have him not munch 2 hours before the meal. Then serve lean meat and low carb side dishes, if you can.
For breakfast (if he even eats one)... a couple of eggs or a ham/cheese omelet are quite healthy. And a great start to the day (some protein) that will last until lunch time, unlike all those carb laden cereals and muffins/donuts, or toast/bagels....

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

It is unfortunate that you waited until now to address his nutritional habits since it would have been much easier when he was younger. It is good that you realize that you need take control now though. First- stop buying junk. He will still find a way to get it at friends' houses or school, but you can control the house. Second, pack as much nutrition into what he will eat. Buy whole grain pasta, leave a bowl of fruit out on the table, add more veggies to what you are cooking. The most important thing is to stop catering to him. He eats what you have made or he doesn't eat.

Also, if you are concerned with his weight get him to drink more water. I serve water with all of our meals (except juice or milk at breakfast). My nieces were just visiting for the past week and I served it to them as well. I know they drink soda at my sister's house with dinner, but I don't allow it with the meal. They can have soda as a treet at snack time, but not with dinner.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You are the parent.
It's time for him to grow up and adjust.
Make the dinner. Put it on the table. Tell him to eat it or don't, but there will be nothing else until breakfast. Don't buy sweets. Don't buy chips. Have nothing except good things in your house.
He will not like it. He will skip dinner. He will not starve.
Serve water with meals.
Don't buy the chocolate for the milk unless you purchase the Carnation Instant Breakfast chocolate - that has vitamins. I'd let him have that on the way out the door in the morning.
You created this mess. It's up to you to fix it.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Well, it depends on what he's been allowed to eat and if you're willing to do something like a household change - all of you eat more salads, fewer fast food take outs, and move more. If it's a household change vs just about him, he may feel more inclined to try and if you all support each other on trying new things, you may all find things you like that you never would have guessed.

We allowed "like" substitutes. The kids couldn't trade spinach for jello, but they could crack a can of green beans if they really didn't want the spinach (or brussels sprouts). If he won't eat broccoli raw, will he do so cooked, with a LIMITED amount of cheese or sauce? Will he eat it if he cooks it? Does he go to the store to check out the fruit and veg and maybe pick out something to try?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Get him involved in planning and cooking meals. Make sure there is at least a small helping of something he likes along with better foods, like a small portion of mac and cheese on the side with some lean chicken and veggies.

Also, what might make the transition to healthier cooking easier is to slowly make his favorite foods a little better. Maybe low-fat cheese on the burritos, mixing some veggies in with that mac and cheese, et cetera.

In my house my daughter wants to be a nutritionist and is adjusting my diet for the better!

L. F., mom of a 15-year-old daughter

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Cook a balanced healthy meal. He can eat it or not.....his choice. Take all junk foods out of the house. Keep healthy (only) snacks in the house. Once again he can eat it or not...his choice. Allow him to help in planning meals but tell him what the options are. He will not starve.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Get him a book "Eat This, Not That" and he will see that he can have (example here off the top of my head) 20 baked potatoes OR O. serving of mac & cheese. Sometimes the visuals are very powerful....

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

You might want to also think about a GOOD multivitamin. Vitamin Shoppe has a good variety. Also, if you guys eat out a lot, or eat a lot of processed foods, he might go through a high fructose corn syrup withdrawal. That is powerful stuff, and if you cut him off cold turkey (which is the way I would go) he will most likely suffer withdrawal symptoms (headache, irritability, etc.). This too should pass. Something else to think about is that sometimes our bodies crave what we're allergic too. So, if y'all change your eating habits and the weight doesn't seem to be coming off, or if he has digestive issues (upset stomach, gas) then he might be allergic or sensitive to dairy. Crazy, I know!

As for food prep, I would do as much from scratch as you can. I don't know if you a SAHM or work, but you can do baby steps. For instance, if you can make any kind of bean in a crockpot (I don't know if you buy can or not) for burritos. Costco sells these tortillas that have (maybe) 5 ingredients and all you have to do is cook them on the skillet. You can then move on to making homemade tortillas yourselves. Salt and pepper go a long way in terms of seasonings. If you slather your veggies in butter, your being counterproductive. The change will also take time, so just be patient and happy cooking!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I have a 24 year old son, an 11 year old daughter and a 6 year old son. My 24 year old was always healthy and fit when he lived at home and was really good about eating whatever I made for him and had a really good appetite for healthy foods. Unfortunately, he has gained around 50 pounds since he moved out of the house almost 3 years ago. I believe the reason why is two-fold...1) the people he lives with now fry everything and eat a very unhealthy diet, and he eats what they eat. 2) I never trained him to shop for and cook with healthy foods. Sure, that's what I kept in the house for him, and I still do it now with my younger kids, but not really having him involved in the shopping and preparation of the food didn't give him the long-term skills he needed to stay healthy after leaving home. It's great that you're concerned about your son's diet, but I just wanted to say that it's going to be a process that will require more than just providing him with healthy foods at home. He needs to be really educated about what is healthy, why it's healthy, and how to maintain his health when he's having to provide for himself.

Now, contrary to some other moms here, I think that the foods you mention your son likes aren't all that bad. There is some nutritional value in almost every food. Cheese - calcium, pasta - iron, beans - fiber, chicken - protein, chocolate milk - calcium and anti-oxidents, etc., etc. If he doesn't like veggies, fruit is a viable substitute. As long as he's eating a good balance of nutrients, eating a reasonable number of calories on a daily basis, and getting at least 30 minutes of some sort of physical activity most days of the week, he will probably be ok.

To help the process, you might start buying whole wheat pasta and tortillas. I know there are some boxed mac & cheese brands that are whole wheat now. Buy the lower fat cheeses. Brown instead of white rice. Make your own homemade pinto beans and mash them up with a little fat free low sodium chicken broth/stock to make them "mock refried" beans so that there is no lard involved. Always keep fruits and the healthy snacks that you do know he likes on hand. If he likes chicken, how does he feel about turkey? Limit the QUANTITY of the higher fat and calorie foods (pasta & parmesan, mac & cheese, etc.) and supplement with lower fat/cal foods like fruits. I don't think there's anything wrong with a small bowl (cup or so) of mac & cheese, some baked chicken and an apple or pear for dinner. If that doesn't fill him up, let him have another piece of chicken or another piece of fruit, but not more mac & cheese.

I don't think it is wise for you to just let him have what he wants rather than what you fix for yourself all the time. Make him at least taste what you're making for the family and if he doesn't like it, then he can have some other HEALTHY alternative like fruits, veggies, lean meats, whole grain breads/snacks, etc. It's always best to pair a protein with a carb rather than just have a carb by itself, but once in a while is not a big deal.

My 6 year old is very picky and also underweight so I worry about his diet quite a bit. A counselor told me that I should require that he taste everything on his plate before he can finish and that he will get used to eating the things he "thinks" he doesn't like. She said he will eventually do it on his own and if he makes it a habit to always at least taste what's put in front of him, he will find more and more things he really likes over time. We've been doing this now since he was 4 and while he's still picky, he's gotten better especially when it comes to vegetables. Maybe this could work for your son too. Good luck!


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Joplin on

He can't eat it if you do not provide it. I say you need to make it a family thing and start making more healthy meals. There is nothing wrong with some options but he is getting older and you want him to develop healthy eating habits.



answers from Washington DC on

Do some prep work. Find some recipes/meals which are healthy choices which you think might appeal to him. Then have a big talk. Tell him you made some bad choice but you are going to fix it, and lay out the plan. Show him some good choices, and engage his help in coming up with ideas - for example, if he likes Bagel Bites, have him make pita pizzas with low fat cheese and low sodium tomato sauce. Don't deny treats, but work on teaching moderation. Tell him dessert is only 3 nights per week not 7. Say snacks are limited to fruit and cut veggies. Make him pack his own lucnch from healthy options and limit buying in the cafeteria. It's your money, right?

Since he is a teen and you have given him control over his diet, you can't exactly rip tha tpower away from him. However, you can lay down th elaw on what comes into the house. It is your pocketbook.

FInd a teen cooking class or go to a class together. Ask your pediatrician for a meeting with a nutritionist to educate you both.

Basically, you need ot lay doen the law. You are the mom. But try to do it in a way where he is part of the decision process..

By teh way, my 3 and 6 year olds, help make dinner, eat what we eat, and my first grader packs her lunch and helps make her breakfast. It is doable.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions