Editor's Pick: The 10 Best Foods for Teens

FoodsSpreadIt’s been estimated that we make more than 200 food-related decisions every day: what to eat, when to eat it, how much. At 23 years old, that’s a lot of decisions. And I wasn’t always happy with them. From middle school onward, I became obsessed with dieting. But what started as a fun little foray into trendy weight loss plans started to take its toll on me, physically and emotionally. With the constant contradictions, my body and my brain both started to forget what they wanted. I’d go weeks or months at a time without fats (including heart-healthy Omega-3s from fish or nuts), or carbs (even filling and energy-stabilizing whole grains), or sugars (including any fruits – which are naturally delicious and jam-packed with vitamins and antioxidants). There was always one food group on the enemy watch list – always one major component of a nutritionally complete diet that I would cast aside. I’d hide behind this image of health as if my “healthy weight” could conceal my body’s constant shortage of precious nutrients.

Not only was this deprivation hurting my growing body, but also negatively influencing my developing view of nutrition—a view that can take a lifetime to come to terms with. Food became an enemy, a weapon—something to fear and to shy away from, something to special order and pick apart and deny. My feelings toward my body, my health, my weight all became tinged with a pervasive negativity.

And then, this summer, something changed. After months of working with the Top 10 Foods Every Teen Should Eat story, I found myself reaching for these 10 items in the grocery store. Suddenly, my basket was filled with juicy mangoes and buttery avocados, whole grain pastas and low-fat part-skim organic string cheese. As I unloaded my bounty at the register, I realized I was excited to get home and eat my new foods, rather than mourn the box of sugary cereal I had left on the shelf. Instead of avoiding things that were bad for me, I was reaching for things that were good for me, and my mentality instantly shifted from “fewer cookies” to “more fish” and “more leafy greens.” I became so focused on adding filling and nutritious whole foods to my diet that I didn’t have time (or room in my stomach) to be missing anything. It sounds like only a slight shift in perspective, but it changed my entire view of food.

At Choices, we strive toward health. We don’t talk about your teens’ diet—we talk about their nutrition. Food shouldn’t be something to fear or to deprive yourself of; it should be a gift you give yourself every day to fuel your amazing body. So the next time you and your teens are at the grocery store, instead of focusing on what they shouldn’t be having, focus on finding the foods that make them feel energized, confident, and strong. Go on an exploratory mission to the produce section, and take home new fruits you’ve never tried before. (I just discovered Asian pears – where have they been all my life?) You can roast carrots, sweet potatoes, and zucchini with olive oil to find the most addictive French fry alternative. Keep a package of string cheese (I prefer a classic mozzarella, but try them all and find your favorite) in the fridge for an after-lunch snack that helps you sail right past the 3 p.m. slump.

To help get you started on your path to a healthy diet (and attitude), we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite recipes, all using the Top 10 Foods Every Teen Should Eat from the September 2013 issue of Choices. Keep your eyes peeled every Monday for a recipe to be posted right here at Teenbeing.

If you want to learn more about how to strive toward health (like why processed sugars make you feel crazy, or how important Omega-3s are for your brain and your heart), keep reading Teenbeing. Once you’ve got the facts, you’ll be itching to pile more health onto your plate.