Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Ages & Stages

Food Faux Pas of Adolescence

Food Faux Pas Number One: Skipping Meals, Beginning with Breakfast

In a Gallup poll of more than four hundred boys and girls aged nine to fifteen, fully half claimed to skip breakfast on school mornings. Many youngsters just aren’t hungry at that hour, but the major obstacle to a sound morning meal seems to be a lack of time. By the time they finally sit down to lunch in the school cafeteria, they may have gone twelve, fourteen hours or more without eating.

In doing so, they’re depriving their brains of essential nutrients needed for concentration, short-term memory, problem solving and processing information. Missing any of the three traditional square meals also reduces by one third their chance of meeting the daily required intake (DRI) for calcium.

What You Can Do

Fix breakfast the night before. In the time it takes to pour the orange juice, you can be warming up the plastic-wrapped plate of precooked eggs and lean bacon, or whatever appeals to your teen’s taste buds. A nutritious breakfast should provide a minimum of three hundred calories.

If time is tight, fresh fruit and low-fat or no-fat yogurt make for a perfectly healthy breakfast. Or drop some fruit in the blender, add skim milk and mix up a filling morning shake. This, too, can be prepared the day before and kept chilled in the refrigerator.

Whole-grain english muffins, toaster pastries, breakfast bars and bagels are easily munched on while getting ready for school. For spreads, consider peanut butter instead of cream cheese. While equal in calories, peanut butter contains more nutrients but with four times less saturated fat and twentyseven times less sodium than cream cheese.

Think beyond traditional breakfast fare. “Leftover pizza or chicken are perfectly acceptable for kids to eat in the morning,” says Mary Story. Other possibilities: fresh fruit with cheese, cottage cheese or yogurt.

When a sit-down breakfast is out of the question, pack a breakfast-to-go. Taste may be less of a priority here than portability; if a food can fit in a jacket pocket or a backpack without creating a mess, you’re in business. Here are several examples: bananas, apples, tangerines and other portable fruits; hardboiled eggs; sandwiches; resealable plastic bags filled with nuts and raisins; and breakfast bars.

Food Faux Pas Number Two: Eating on the Run

Much of the food teenagers eat comes served on trays. Two in three of them purchase lunch at school, where they’re at least assured a nutritionally balanced, if not always appetizing, meal. They also spend a lot of time crammed together in booths at fast-food restaurants. The popularity of these establishments has less to do with the quality of cuisine than the fact that they provide an informal and inexpensive venue for socializing.

In response to Americans’ growing interest in healthy eating, the fast-food industry has expanded its menus to include less fattening options like salads, low-calorie dressing and grilled-chicken sandwiches. Some chains now cook their french fries in vegetable oil instead of animal fat and offer meatless soybased veggie burgers. Despite these commendable innovations, the fact remains that 40 to 50 percent of the calories in the average fast-food meal comes from fat.

What You Can Do

Share with your teenager the following tips, which will allow her to minimize the fat and salt she consumes when joining her friends at the local burger mecca or sub shop. In the end, though, parents have to accept that they have no control over what their children eat when they’re out and about—all the more reason for seeing to it that they eat sensibly at home!

Un-supersize it. Teenagers don’t have to give up the fast foods they’ve always enjoyed, but it’s wise to scale down the portion size. For example, don’t order the giant triple-decker deluxe cheeseburger; pick a regular hamburger instead.

Would you care for something else with that?

Yes: a small order of fries and a small juice or milk.

If a portion is too big, don’t feel obligated to eat it all in one sitting; take it home in a doggie bag.

Have it your way—with as few fattening condiments as possible.

  • Order burgers minus cheese, ketchup, mayonnaise and the ever-mysterious “secret sauce.”
  • Instead of ordering the burger, try the grilled chicken sandwich with no mayo.
  • Top pizza with vegetables instead of sausage, pepperoni and other fatty meats.
  • Ask for salad dressings to be served on the side, so that you can determine how much to put on.
  • Coolly resist the subtle pressure from the counterperson to dress up your simple baked potato in layers of sour cream, melted cheese, chives and bacon.
  • Hungry for a sub? Choose lean deli meats such as turkey instead of fat-heavy cold cuts.
  • Don’t slather bread, rolls and biscuits in butter. Use only a little or eat them plain.

Food Faux Pas Number Three: Snacking, Snacking, Snacking

Teenagers derive nearly a quarter of their daily calories from snack foods. This is an area of diet that parents can control, by not bringing salty, fattening chips, nuts and so forth home from the grocery store.

What You Can Do

Have healthy snacks on hand. Much of the time, kids snack out of habit, not because they’re genuinely hungry. When a youngster comes sliding into the kitchen during the commercial break and has two minutes and twenty seconds to decide upon a snack and hustle back to the TV, convenience is as important as taste.

If the pantry is stocked with plenty of low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt snacks, that’s what he’ll grab. These days the good-for-you convenience foods don’t taste all that different from the unhealthy ones. So do away with the non-nutritious products, such as candy, cake, and soft drinks. You might have to put up with a day or two of protest— “Hey, what happened to the glazed donuts?! Where’d all the cookies go?!”—but once it’s understood that from now on those items will be occasional treats (and once his sugar withdrawal subsides), peace will return to the household.

Now, are you ready to get really radical? Keep cleaned and ready-to-eat celery stalks, carrot sticks, fresh strawberries, melon wedges and other favorite fruits and veggies in your refrigerator, and see what happens.

“I know with my own kids that they would never dream of taking the time to peel an orange or cut up a cantaloupe, which they love,” says Mary Story. “But if I set down a platter of cut-up fruit or vegetables, it’s devoured in no time at all.”

Healthy Convenience Foods

  • Salt-free crackers
  • Graham crackers
  • Baked potato chips
  • Low-salt or no-salt pretzels
  • Bagels
  • Popcorn (without butter)
  • Applesauce
  • Gelatin
  • Granola
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Juices
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Sugar-free cereals
  • Low-fat cheeses
  • Dried raisins, prunes, apricots
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Soybeans

Food Faux Pas Number Four: The Freshman Fifteen

The “freshman fifteen” refers to the fifteen pounds that neophyte college students have been known to put on their first year away from home. It’s not surprising, given the academic pressure and the stress of a new environment— perhaps about of homesickness—coupled with unlimited access to food. There’s the cafeteria and several other eateries on campus, as well as nearby pizzerias willing to deliver at all hours. Another reason freshmen can fall into poor eating habits: Mom and Dad aren’t around to nag them.

What You Can Do

Not much, aside from offering encouragement to eat right and exercise faithfully. For teens who need motivation to improve their diets, consider sending “care packages” of healthy snack foods and other items.

Additional Information: 



Last Updated
Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Follow Us