How Do You Change a 14 Yr Old Eating Habits Who Has Depression ?

Updated on April 26, 2019
K.H. asks from Holt, MI
22 answers

My 14 yr old just had blood work done and has high ttriglycerides. I was told to take out sweets, pasta and bread. The problem is, he is a very picky eater. He will only eat about five items which include, macaroni & cheese, pizza, chicken nuggets, fish sticks and spaghetti without the sauce.. How do I change his eating habits without throwing him over the edge?

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K.B.

answers from Denver on

Hello K., I am a holistic nutritionist and I work with teens who have depression and I can tell you that for many (not all) of them, their depression is primarily related to the poor diet. The triglycerides will come down with dietary changes, however, this is the most challenging group to get to make dietary changes. I prefer to get food sensitivity testing done so if there are any food intolerances the teen can see it on paper. Also, I work with the teen, letting them have control and say over what changes he is willing to make and with teens it’s a very slow process usually not a major overhaul of the diet. Think of adding in, not taking out in regards to diet. You want to crowd out the processed, refined foods. It’s not easy but can be done and is best to work with a professional as teens are more receptive to changes if expressed by a professional versus their parent. Working with a professional is also less stress on you as it can be overwhelming. I would find a nutritionist that specializes in mental health as many are not as familiar in this area and majority are familiar with lipid panel markers and how to address that. The key point is he has to be part of the process and willing. In my experience, they notice they feel better and so are inclined to stick with the changes. Best of luck!

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J.K.

answers from Wausau on

You definitely need to see a dietitian, because the blanket advice to "take out sweets, pasta and bread" is not an appropriate level of care. It may be one aspect of a dietary care plan, but there are other parts required when handling triglyceride issues. Honestly, I suspect a change of doctor would be in order. If nothing else, DO get a referral to a dietitian who specializes in kids.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

I have a relative who is a dietitian (not only a nutritionist) who is on a pediatrics team. This is the person you need to see. They work with kids/teens like yours - especially those who are also being seen by specialists. Ask for a referral.

Moms often don't know how to approach this - it's complicated by the fact he has depression.

I have had kiddos who liked bland diets - more like when they were younger, because when I was working, I served up what you were describing as it was easy, fast, I wasn't a good cook, and they ate it - without fuss.

I was able to get them to try new foods by slowly introducing them (sneaking) in. Eggs are a big one. Scrambled. Boiled. However they like them. Grapes. Cut up apples. Mini carrots. Get them in when they are ravenous - before dinner for example. Mid morning.

Some of those have sugars .. this is why a dietitian will be able to better advise.

You can switch to whole grain pastas which take longer to digest - there are alternatives to what you are doing. My dietician relative says that doctors are often extreme and scare off parents. You often just have to make modifications and kids are more likely to stick with it.

Cheese cubes. Humus (some kids really go for this). Chicken nuggets you can make yourself with some prep work.

Get a referral - try not to stress, and it's possible. My dad had high triglycerides. He also exercised (?) Not sure if that helped, but it's controllable. He didn't cut things out - just cut back and improved his diet.

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E.B.

answers from Denver on

Helping a child to change eating habits at 14 is nowhere near the process of changing a child's eating habits when that child is 2 or 3. The parent of a picky toddler often can have greater control over the foods that the toddler eats. But a 14 year old has school friends and can go to friends' houses and can cook or fend for himself somewhat (he can microwave stuff, pick up junk food at the local 7-11, etc).

So, it's imperative to involve the teen in such an important decision like changing eating habits due to medical issues. Your son has to be brought on board.

It's important to respect the fact that he has been diagnosed with depression (I'm assuming you mean that he has an actual diagnosis of depression, not just that he's kind of mopey and going through a brief period of feeling down due to failing a test or something). He may be taking medication which affects his appetite, or his blood work.

I suggest getting a referral to a nutritionist who works with teens. Your doctor or hospital can suggest one. The nutritionist will take into account your son's diagnoses (medical and mental health both), and his medications. The nutritionist will help create a plan and will help keep your teen accountable - not just to you, but to the nutritionist and most importantly to himself.

Where does your 14 year old get access to these five foods? Do you buy them or supply him with money for them? Do you eat supper together as a family? Do you cook with him? Can he cook anything and make a healthy simple meal, even a salad?

The problem, as I see it, is that YOU were told to cut out certain foods and you're asking how to change his habits. And, you have the added conundrum of his depression, and you're talking about how to change things without his going over the edge.

He's almost a young man. Almost old enough to get a learner's permit. He has to get involved. He has to learn about triglycerides, and junk food, and sugar, and processed foods.

Changing a bad habit - whether it's junk food, cigarettes, alcohol - should be approached from a positive point of view. It's better to say "today I will fuel my body with fresh vegetables and lots of water" than to say "I'm not going to eat chicken nuggets and cheese balls all day". But your son will have to be the one to direct his own healing.

Take him to a nutritionist and step back and let the professional help your son, and then make sure that you enable your son to eat healthfully by stocking your house with the things the nutritionist suggests, and by setting a good example, and by serving some real meals.

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W.W.

answers from Washington DC on

K.

He will eat what you present him with. You created this monster (sorry but really - anyone who allows their children to dictate the menu and what they will eat? caused this themselves).

You need to talk WITH him and with a nutritionist. He needs to expand his pallet and stop just eating a few select things.

I can't imagine having to make special meals for my kid because he doesn't want to eat what I'm preparing. INSANE!!!

You fix a meal for EVERYONE in the family and EVERYONE eats it. PERIOD. End of story. Your husband better get on the same page as you as well.

Are there kids who have disorders? sure. but come on. Your son's eating habits are part of the problem. He also needs a therapist if he won't talk with you about what is bothering him. Maybe HE does want you to step up and tell him how it will be instead of him telling you how it will be!! PARENT HIM!!! Get him help!

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E.J.

answers from Chicago on

What does his doctor say?

What does his therapist say?

Both should be involved in the solution.

Ask for a referral to a dietitian.

Until then, stop buying it. If it’s not in the house, he can’t it eat.
Start with a healthy grocery list, let him write it out and go with you.

Start making homemade foods, and involve him in the food prep and cooking.
Who diagnosed his depression? His mental health will probably improve once he starts eating better.

In the age of Pinterest, there are a thousand ideas on how to get kids to eat, how to cook from scratch, and how to make healthy lifestyle changes.
It will probably start with you incorporating and modeling these lifestyle changes yourself.

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S.S.

answers from Atlanta on

First off as a mom of 4 boys? I can tell you that i NEVER allowed my children to decide what was for dinner all the time. They could make suggestions, and if I liked their suggestions? I would make it. Otherwise? They ate and still do eat what I prepare for them. If they don't like it? that's fine. they MUST try it first before they decide they don't like it. And if they don't like it? Well, guess what? They wait until the next meal to eat. I'm not a short order cook.

You have to work with a dietitian and nutritionist and your pediatrician to get your son back on track. The fact is that his lousy eating habits are the a HUGE reason for his depression. Our bodies NEED fruits and vegetables and other nutrients to stay healthy.

Get rid of all the junk food. No more mac and cheese in the house.
No more fish sticks or chicken nuggets. Donate the food to a pantry for the less fortunate and stock your house with HEALTHY foods. This will ensure your son doesn't HAVE a choice but to eat what you prepare. And if he sneaks food? Well, guess what? He'll have HEALTHY choices to chose from.

Get your son to see a psychiatrist or counselor. But once the doctor hears of his eating habits? He/she might blame the depression on that. So you need to get your son eating better.

This will be a hard change. He's 14, not 4. He'll fight you. But you must stand strong and brave. You MUST not cave and you MUST ensure that you and your ENTIRE family eat meals TOGETHER and ALL eat the same thing.

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G.♣.

answers from Springfield on

I absolutely agree with everyone who says work with his doctor(s) and that he will eat what you buy.

I would also say that it's crazy to simply stop allowing the foods he likes, even the ones you need to eliminate (like sweets, pasta and bread). Ask anyone who's ever attempted to eat healthier. It isn't easily accomplished. It doesn't happen over night. It is much, much more successful if you make slow, gradual changes.

Involve your son and make slow changes. Keep in mind that he's been eating these foods for years, so it is not fair to expect him to just change over night. Maybe start with one meal a day and make small changes, but your best bet is to work with his doctor or therapist.

You need to come up with a realistic plan and involve your son. Otherwise he's just going to look for ways to sneak food and develop a whole new set of issues. I use to spend almost every penny of my allowance on junk food.

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M.6.

answers from New York on

What about making healthier versions of these items? None of these foods have to be "bad" for you. Homemade chicken nuggets in the air fryer? Whole wheat or carb conscious spaghetti noodles? Cauliflower crust pizza?

P.S.: Your kid only eats what you buy and cook. Stop buying and cooking sh*t and he won't be able to eat what he doesn't have access to.

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

What does his doctor say? Did the doctor speak to your son directly? At 14, it's time for that.

I'm not surprised that he has high triglycerides, with that diet. And frankly, Mom, you and any other parent in the picture have created this situation by permitting this diet of just fat and carbs. I know many kids have sensory issues and reject certain foods, but this is insane. There are ways to work around it.

You make your own food and you stop buying processed junk. That's easy. There will be arguments but you just do it. My kid liked chicken nuggets too, but I made my own with a coating of wheat germ and whole wheat bread crumbs, quick-friend in olive oil and finished in the oven. Pizza can be made with a different crust (broccoli, cauliflower even) and your own sauce without sugar in it. Veggies can be ground up in the sauce to start, then put on top of the pizza in larger pieces. Grilled chicken, oven-roasted sweet potatoes, big salad bars and taco bars at home will encourage more healthy choices. You can also put veggies and fruits of all kinds in healthy protein shakes done in the blender or with a hand blender. Adding yogurt or almond milk, and even a dash of cocoa powder if he likes chocolate, would give him a much healthier basis for health. I would set out a plan for the next 2 months to switch to healthier options of all his foods - which will give him time to adjust and not have him feel that you are punishing him for something he didn't do all on his own.

At 14, a lot of kids are interested in things like getting in shape, building muscle, etc. So having your son work with a good high school coach or a trainer at the gym make pique his interest in getting stronger, which is going to lead to info from someone besides you and the doctor on how to fill out - and it doesn't involve mac and cheese. I think you should take a class on this so you learn how to feed everyone in the family in a more nutritious way. This could also be done in conjunction with whatever therapist is working with his depression. This diet he's on contributes immensely to depression.

Moreover, you need to immediately get out of the habit of caving in to a teen because that's going to spill over into other risky behaviors he thinks about. Caring about his body inside and out will help him fight off the pressures by his peers to use drugs and alcohol, and it will put you more in the role of parent instead of enabler. He'll want to be driving in a few years too, so he needs to be making better decisions there - and you need to stand your ground.

I would work with his therapist on how to admit your mistakes up to this point without your son blaming it all on you, and how to turn this into a positive adjustment that he will actually enjoy.

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J.B.

answers from Boston on

I think your best bet is to find a nutritionist/coach for him who can really get him to see and believe that his life will change for the better when he changes what he puts into his body. If you can't find a traditional nutritionist who fits the bill, then maybe see if your local YMCA has any personal trainers who have a background in nutrition? There are a couple of cool, young, fit guys at my local Y who are personal trainers but also do nutrition coaching for young athletes. I think that connecting him with someone he likes and trusts might help him to open up to trying new things and once he is feeding himself more healthy, lean, nutrient-dense food, he'll feel better and might look more fit. You don't mention whether or not he is overweight but I can imagine that if he has high triglycerides at a young age, he might not be as fit as he could be.

If he has been diagnosed with depression, is he getting treatment for that? Therapy, medication? Eating a limited diet (especially one high in processed carbs) can definitely affect mood while feeding your gut a variety of foods and increasing the variety of your microbiome can really help support the neurotransmitters we need to feel well in body and mind. The gut has more of some neurotransmitters like serotonin than the brain does, which is so exciting for understanding how much we can influence about the brain by feeding the body!

To get a child of this age to change, he has to be on board with it because you don't want to turn food into something to fight about and he can always eat junk outside of the house even if you don't have it at home. He is going to have to want to choose wisely for himself because he knows it will benefit him physically and emotionally.

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C.T.

answers from Santa Fe on

He is seeing a good therapist and doctor to treat his depression, right? What I would do is slowly decrease having these foods in the house. Serve roast chicken, green beans and a side of mac n cheese for example. Be out of pizza and chicken nuggets. Serve up healthy dinners with one small thing your 14 year old likes. Really, your 14 year old has to want to change his eating habits himself. So work on his mental health...that is the most important issue to deal with. Note - I like the answer below to take him to meet with a dietician.

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N.K.

answers from Miami on

Balance. Show him what proper nutrition looks like, a handful of carbs, but the rest should be made up of protein and veggies. Have the doctor show him and teach him how to eat healthy. My doctor had a booklet, for example, and it detailed how many carbs each vegetable, including starchy vegetables, contained. It was a booklet meant for diabetics that was given to me by my endocrinologist. The threat of diabetes and daily injections was enough to scare my child away from poor food choices.

Change your diet. As in, the entire family's. You all will benefit from it, trust me. I would give him a big salad with chicken, and a slice of bread, for example. That is it, no sweats, no pasta, and no more than one slice of bread. Use multigrain bread, brown rice, and wheat pasta. That way, he will fill up on the good stuff and only consume a small amount of carbs, and carbs that have some health benefit rather than the refined white flour stuff.

You can have a cauliflower pizza crust, pan seared chicken, and sugar-free sweets as healthier substitutes to what he currently eats. Also, how about incorporating some exercise? That will help him burn off the carbs and lower his blood sugar too. In my house, if you don't want to eat something, you go to bed hungry. You don't get to have a whole other meal, and no, that stuff isn't kept in my house so that even if you say "fine, don't cook for me, I will cook it myself" it does not become an option. A hungry kid will eat whatever is given to him, stop enabling him, allowing him to boss you around and be his personal chef!

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B.C.

answers from Norfolk on

If your 14 yr old only eats 5 things - none of which includes much in the way of meaningful fruit or veggies - how is it he's not suffering from scurvy or any number of other vitamin/mineral deficiencies?
Is he special needs?
A diet like that sounds more like a toddlers than a teens.
Why did his diet issues not come up at 5 or 7 yrs old?
He's 2 years away from driving and 4 years away from being an adult - I guess addressing his food issues now is better late than never.
With his diet I'm thinking triglycerides and depression are the least of your and his worries.

You were told to change his diet - by who? His doctor? A dietitian?
I'm hoping you are working long term with a dietician because they can advise you better than we can.

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D..

answers from Miami on

Is there a children’s hospital anywhere near you? They have dieticians who work with children. They are trained to talk to kids. This is very different from adult dieticians.

Perhaps smoothies might help. Talk to the ped about that. Also ask the ped if the “pickiness” could be sensory based (textures, that sort of thing). A feeding specialist/therapist might be able to work with the dietician to help.

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S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

when my younger was a tween and young teen he was overweight and very self-conscious about it, but also struggled with being disciplined about treats.

we did a nutrition unit study in our homeschool, to really dig down into what effects different foods have on our systems.

it didn't change anything overnight, but the science plus puberty helped. he became very interested in health, and ended up getting a degree (and career) in science. now he's also a big ol' gym rat.

involve him in the learning process and the decision making. talking to an expert is probably a good idea.

khairete
S.

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S.G.

answers from Los Angeles on

His depression is most likely caused by his poor eating habits and his age.

You need to stop "babying" him and provide him with HEALTHY choices. You will need to work with a dietitian and nutritionist. It will be a hard adjustment, but it can be done.

Get rid of all the bad choices in the house. Clean out the cabinets and only allow good, healthy foods in the house.
Make the same meal for everyone. You're not a short-order cook, right? I don't think any mother plans on being a short-order cook. We want to please our children and ensure they are happy, but we don't stop to think of the consequences of giving them what they want, instead of what they need.

I wish you luck.

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R.L.

answers from Chicago on

What does your son think about his eating habits and his depression? Does he see a relationship between the two? Is his diet something that he works on with his therapist? Is your son invested in change? Ask the doctor for a referral to a nutritionist who specializes in working with children. Hopefully they can help motivate him too.

Of course it will be easier to change his habits if he is on board with the process, but even if he’s not, I think you can try starting with healthier versions of the food he likes. Try Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods if you’re looking for easy, or if you like to cook, try making homemade versions of these items. It’s not that difficult to alter the foods he likes so that they are healthier, wheat pasta with veggies and/or chicken, veggies on pizza, etc. He’s old enough to understand how food preferences work, that it takes a number of tastes (I forget how many), to acquire a taste for something. Maybe he would be willing to try one non-preferred food per dinner, and then have his preferred foods (healthy versions) available too.

What are mealtimes like in your house? Is he your only child? What is everyone else eating? Who does the cooking? Make sure that the whole family is eating and hopefully preparing healthy meals together. Make mealtimes as fun and relaxing as you can. Be confident and try to help build his confidence that eating better will help his mood, and he can learn to enjoy a wider variety of foods.

For the record, I was a terribly picky eater, really until college, so it's never too late to learn!

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*.*.

answers from New London on

Get him into something that includes exercise-- To help with the depression. Walking, biking, volleyball, etc....Find one thing he likes.

There is chick pea pasta, etc....
If he will eat soup, cook the chick pea pasta and put it in the soup. I did this and nobody knew it wasn't reg pasta. Make or buy zucchini that looks like spaghetti and add a T. of it into the pasta and gradually add more.

I am a certified parenting educator. Have your son work with somebody because he is 14. He is a teen, so he can get to trust that person and begin to eat healthy

Also, try putting a bowl of grapes out just leave them there. It might work! I bought organic dates last week and wrote caramel dates on the pkg. and it worked. They do taste great (Like caramel). They are high in sugar, but, getting away from donuts, etc....

Start sooner than later finding somebody to work with him.

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E.M.

answers from Louisville on

You are the parent, you buy the food. Don’t buy it he will eat other things

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M.P.

answers from Boston on

I agree with changing to healthier foods and can be done without much ado. My husband doesn't like asparagus, spinach, broccoli, etc. What I have done, since he seems to be pre-diabetic is to use cauliflower noodles for mac & cheese.

For our Sunday breakfast, I make a Frittata with finely chopped broccoli, spinach, onions as the veggies, ground turkey sausage (no sugar). He absolutely loves it.

In our mac & cheese, I may add small bite size pieces of chicken, or ground beef.

There is sugar in almost everything processed. I understand Walmart has a lot of sugar free products, so my sister-in-law says. We have not looked there, because she sends my husband sugar free wafer cookies and other products.

For pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce, I get a can of tomato sauce, finely chop the above mentioned veggies and neither of us can tell the difference, that it's not something out of a jar or prepared in a can.

Good luck. Test and see what you can get him to eat. If he loves it, maybe tell him afterwards what's in it (regarding veggies), but not before. :)

Btw, I season almost everything with Turmeric and Black Pepper in addition to other seasonings, since Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

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M.J.

answers from Sacramento on

Learn more about ARFID. It sounds like your son has it and if you try to force him to eat things not on his safe list, he's going to starve himself. Trust me, BTDT. This is a medical condition in the DSM (psychiatric manual) and is starting to be better understood. ARFID stands for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. If this sounds like what you're dealing with, you need to be working with eating disorder specialists, not a pediatrician or other medical professional who may be completely unfamiliar with ARFID. Good luck!

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