How can parents motivate teenagers to eat better?

I have a lot of first hand experience "motivating" my three teenage (now adult) children to eat better. As I have discussed in previous posts on this blog, it is a challenge that is at times very frustrating, but well worth the effort. Compromises will be needed in most cases, but in any case, dietary perfection is not the goal.

A recent study spoke to me, both on a personal and professional level. The study demonstrated how teenagers would respond best to appeals to vanity and other short term outcomes including increased optimism. I have witnessed this firsthand in my practice as teenagers often want to achieve a more "ideal" physique. However,  I am reluctant to encourage better eating as way to become more "attractive." That can become a slippery slope to disordered eating.

This study used daily text messages to prompt two groups of Italian students 14 to 19 years of age on the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables; one group was reminded about the appearance and attitude benefits; the other about the health benefits. The first group increased consumption of f&v to 5.5 servings/day, the second to 5.1; statistically meaningful differences as small as they seem. Long term health benefits provide little incentive for the majority of teens and certainly almost all children in the tweens or younger.  

Nothing wrong with encouraging more f&v. But if you really want to help your teen (or anyone) achieve optimal appearance and attitude, other foods could actually exert stronger positive effects. Foods rich in protein, collagen, vitamin A, zinc, biotin, choline, iron, and vitamins B6 & B12 can help increase muscle mass, improve skin and reduce acne, help hair and nails grow shiny and strong, improve neurotransmitter balance in the brain - leading to a more positive outlook, and even enhance athletic performance if a teen is deficient or has marginal intakes. These foods would be mostly animal foods: whole eggs, red meat, full fat dairy, chicken with skin!, and the all important liver.

Yeah - I know - your daughter wants to become a vegetarian or even a vegan, your son doesn't have time for breakfast so forget the eggs, and who eats liver anyway? I can help you overcome these challenges and help your teen understand how they can live up to their full potential, physically, mentally, and emotionally, by eating a diet that contains the full range of essential nutrients. 

You may be surprised that making liver tasty is actually not that hard. Take liver (I get mine at Standard Foods in Raleigh), "marinate" overnight in buttermilk. When ready to cook, drain and dredge in seasoned flour (can be gluten free baking mix also).  Cook 2 slices of bacon (I like Trader Joe's) per 4 oz serving of liver, remove from pan - pouring off and saving some of the bacon fat; then brown 1/2 medium sliced onion per serving and again remove from pan leaving some bacon fat behind. Cook liver at medium heat for 5-7 minutes per side, don't overcook or it will get tough. Serve topped with onions, bacon on the side, and lots of ketchup if needed!

You can also finely chop the liver (still half-frozen) and add about 1/4 lb to each 1 lb of ground meat in your meatloaf recipe, again with other seasonings to "disguise." Many moms have been "disguising" vegetables in recipes since Jessica Seinfeld popularized this technique. I preferred non-disclosure of egg yolks and liver when I could, and it usually was accepted. Whatever you do, just make sure if you have guests over that you let them know in case of food allergies.

Reporting on the study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology:  Ann Lukits, Wall Street Journal, Tuesday August 16, 2016.