It’s safe to say that almost anything we buy ready-made contains sugar.  It can feel like an uphill struggle trying to limit sugar in both our and our kids’ diets, especially with the great British sweet-tooth.

The trend for dessert bars as a ‘healthy’ alternative to chocolate bars across the UK is misleading, as many of these are still loaded with sugar or sweetener.  For teens, this becomes an even bigger minefield.  With access to their own money, more freedom after school and temptation at every door, shop and even school canteen, how do you encourage your teen to avoid empty calories?

Make your teen label-conscious

Most teens will look at a packet of sweets, food or chocolate and the only thought in their mind is ‘yummy’.  They don’t care if it contains palm oil, saturated fat, or sugar, they care about the taste.

However, they don’t actually know what’s in it and, if they did, they may make better decisions.  Today’s teens are more informed than ever – and you can use that to your advantage.  Teach them about what they’re putting in their mouth, break it down into the ingredients and where they come from.

Is there an eco-sustainable link?  Is the company ethical?  Is there another version of the same food that contains less sugar and fat, but still tastes great?  Give them the information to allow them to make smart choices.

Show and tell

Saying to a teen that a single waffle contains your entire daily allowance of sugar and fat in one meal when you’ve already had breakfast, lunch and dinner means nothing.

  1. They don’t know how much sugar a day’s allowance is
  2. Even if they did, they wouldn’t understand what that looks like
  3. They don’t really care when the mountain of ice cream, syrup, chocolate and waffle is sitting in front of them.

However, if you show them what you mean with actual bags of sugar, they can instantly see what they’re eating.  Sure, they’re probably used to seeing someone add a teaspoon of sugar to their tea, but seeing the number of grams in the dessert they were planning to eat in front of them, in a pile, could be all the shock they need.

At least, if they decide to go ahead and eat it, they’ll be conscious of the other choices they make the rest of the day.

Balance

No-one is saying teens can’t have chocolate or desserts or sweets or fast food.  It’s purely about balance.  If they have a sports club one day, use that day as treat day. The extra calories they’ve burnt doing the activity will help to balance out the treat.

If you know your teen likes to indulge at school or on their way home, consider giving them a packed lunch or snack to take home with them that still fills them up and satisfies their craving, but isn’t as processed and sugar laden.

  • Keep the main meals you give them at home as sugar- and fat-free as you can.
  • Make your own sauces rather than relying on jars
  • Use lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and herbs and spices.

If you can’t control or encourage them to eat healthily when they’re not at home, then at least you know the majority of what they’re eating is nutritious.