Teen eating habits

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 31, 2011 06:00 AM

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Our 15 year old daughter has ballet lessons 5 nights a week. The classes are always scheduled to begin between 5 and 6:00pm. Right in the middle of the dinner hour. She rarely eats dinner with the family because of this kooky schedule. Whenever I do eat with her, I am offended by her bad table manners (doesn't converse, eats like a viking and saddened by her food choices (still hates salad, vegetables, etc). There is always plenty of healthy food around the house and we cook good meals. Is it just teen angst that she'll grow out of or should I set up rules for her to follow in this area? At this age, everything's a struggle.

From: Joolzy, Marshfield, MA

Hi Joolzy,

If she's taking ballet lessons five days a week, she must be pretty serious about it. Which means she really needs to know some basic facts about her body, especially that healthy teen nutrition is critical for any teen athlete, and certainly someone who takes dance five times a week qualifies as an athlete. What's more, because of the way their bodies are growing, teens typically need a much more healthy diet than they realize. What's more, since she's taking lessons five days a week, I'm wondering if her teacher hasn't talked to her about the importance of nutrition. I also wonder if it's possible for your family to somehow be more flexible so that you can all eat together at least a few times a week.

I guess what I'm getting at is that at this age, you can't just set down rules about what she eats; she needs to want to eat in a healthy way. So my suggestion is to arm yourself with some information, make than information available to her, tell her about your concerns and offer to be helpful.

The manners piece of this -- that's another story. How did she get this far in life with bad table manners? If you have been an enabler, ignoring poor manners all these years, own up to it with some "I" statements: "I made a mistake by not doing a better job teaching table manners. I want to undo this. What ideas do you have?" Even if you haven't been an enabler, avoid "you" statements: "You eat like a slob!!" That only will make her defensive and angry.

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10 comments so far...
  1. We have crazy hours during the week with softball, 5:15 practices, 6:00 games. I make sure my daughter eats something healthy before the game, she likes healthy foods so it works out. If she doesn't eat, she gets lightheaded. When she gets back, she needs to eat again so at 8:00 at night it's grilled cheese or a bagel as she needs the fiber to fill her up before bed. When it isn't a night for games, we eat together. Try setting aside weekends for family meals, or if you go out, one night for couples one night for the kids and everyone has to be home. I keep plenty of fruits and healthy snacks handy, it helps. She loves junk as much as anyone, but I need to make sure she has good habits for life.

    Posted by Sue May 31, 11 01:16 PM
  1. I'm just going out on a limb here, but perhaps the "viking-like" eating is because the girl is STARVING by the time she gets to eat? HS lunches are often at like 11 am. Maybe she needs a snack like a yogurt or some cheese to eat in the afternoon, pre-dance?

    I'd back off the concern for her ravenous eating - there is still a serious and sinister cult of not eating in the dance world, often subtly encouraged by the teachers. Be happy she's not influenced by that (yet).

    Posted by Q May 31, 11 01:33 PM
  1. Who eats dinner at 5:00? Can't you eat later or is there some reason why everyone has to eat at 5:00?

    Posted by CG May 31, 11 02:53 PM
  1. Is there a reason "family dinner hour" has to be at a time when the whole family can't make it? I get that people's schedules are all different so it is hard to always have everyone present. But if you have scheduled your day so that one person is *always* unable to be there... then you need to redo your schedule. It sends a pretty strong -- and negative -- message to your kid (unintentionally, I know) that she is not included. (I wonder if that is part of her refusal to converse when she does get to sit at the table with you?) If you can rework things so that a few nights a week you all just have a later dinner, that would be a good start.

    But I agree with Barbara that if she is serious enough about ballet to be taking class 5 days a week, then she needs to know about nutrition.. So you don't need to make this a "you must eat your veggies or else" fight; but telling her your concerns is fine.

    Also -- you say you have healthy foods available. But do you also have a lot of junk food/processed foods available? If so, cut back on those. If you don't have junk in the house, she won't be eating junk in the house.

    Posted by jjlen May 31, 11 03:13 PM
  1. "She rarely eats dinner with the family because of this kooky schedule."

    There must be small children in this family, hence the need for the parents to eat earlier.

    "Whenever I do eat with her,"

    That spunds like you're resentful. What's wrong with serving dinner twice, and sitting with other family members at different times?

    "I am offended by her bad table manners (doesn't converse, eats like a viking and saddened by her food choices (still hates salad, vegetables, etc)."

    Oh, well, your daughter is a teenager. They eat like Vikings. And they have weird food choices. It will pass.

    But:

    "What's more, since she's taking lessons five days a week, I'm wondering if her teacher hasn't talked to her about the importance of nutrition."

    ^^This^^

    A responsible dance school/instructor will require nutrition education, especially since it looks like your daughter is aiming for a career in ballet. Ask them about it. The School of the Boston Ballet requires nutrition education for its teen and young adult students.

    Posted by reindeergirl May 31, 11 03:25 PM
  1. Eat later, for everyone's sake. This is the only country where 5:00pm is considered dinner-time. Everywhere else, it's the middle of the afternoon. Little kids can have a snack when they get home from school if they can't last till dinner, or else - even more civilized - feed them early and then have a big people's dinner at 8:00pm. Your teenage daughter will appreciate being part of the adult world, and you'll all have a more relaxed meal.

    Posted by alien57 May 31, 11 09:01 PM
  1. Give her a snack on the car ride home. She's probably starving and possibly cranky as a result. Have a sitdown on the weekend about the upcoming week and decide which nights will be family dinner night and ask her for inputs on what she'd like to eat that night. Take her shopping and ask her opinion on snacks and the like. If the siblings are eating earlier then can they eat a bedtime snack or dessert while she's eating dinner? How about family lunch or breakfast? I'd let table habits go for the short-term but I would insist on some civilized conversation (assuming she's not cranky from hunger). If she can't respond to a few polite inquiries about her day then you all need to re-address your willingness to shell out $$$ for activities.

    Posted by PatD June 1, 11 11:49 AM
  1. This is sort of funny because Barbara is often writing about not making meals a power struggle, citing Ellyn Satter. I get that it's usually about younger children and that an athlete needs nutrition, but wouldn't power struggles be an issue with teens as well? It sounds like she is eating, so it's not a disordered eating situation, just not eating good stuff.
    For what it's worth, for two years in high school I spent my lunch money on fruit punch and peanut butter cups. Mainly because the school lunch was so disgusting, but also because I couldn't get that stuff at home. I came back around to healthy eating gradually and now I am a vegetable-holic.

    Posted by Missy June 1, 11 11:52 AM
  1. Like CG said, you eat between 5-6pm? Just change dinner time so the family eats after her ballet lesson. 6:30-7 isn't an unreasonable dinner time.

    Posted by Working Mom June 1, 11 01:58 PM
  1. I'd give the girl a break. She just finished staring at her body (and that of several other girls) in a mirror for an hour and a half, had a long hard workout after a long day at school and probably has homework to finish. I know I don't like to eat before exercising so perhaps that is why she is starving and cranky when she gets home. The last thing she needs is being harped on about her table manners and food choices. I would discuss it nicely with her at a time far removed from the situation and try to come up with a solution together. And while I agree that family meal time is important, if you've got busy teenagers in the house, I think you're doing well if you can manage it a few times a week. The last thing you want to do is take away her ballet as suggested by PatD. A bored, listless teenager hanging sullenly around the house is far worse than an active, motivated, albeit poor mannered, one.

    Posted by CordeliaPotter June 2, 11 09:37 AM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. We have crazy hours during the week with softball, 5:15 practices, 6:00 games. I make sure my daughter eats something healthy before the game, she likes healthy foods so it works out. If she doesn't eat, she gets lightheaded. When she gets back, she needs to eat again so at 8:00 at night it's grilled cheese or a bagel as she needs the fiber to fill her up before bed. When it isn't a night for games, we eat together. Try setting aside weekends for family meals, or if you go out, one night for couples one night for the kids and everyone has to be home. I keep plenty of fruits and healthy snacks handy, it helps. She loves junk as much as anyone, but I need to make sure she has good habits for life.

    Posted by Sue May 31, 11 01:16 PM
  1. I'm just going out on a limb here, but perhaps the "viking-like" eating is because the girl is STARVING by the time she gets to eat? HS lunches are often at like 11 am. Maybe she needs a snack like a yogurt or some cheese to eat in the afternoon, pre-dance?

    I'd back off the concern for her ravenous eating - there is still a serious and sinister cult of not eating in the dance world, often subtly encouraged by the teachers. Be happy she's not influenced by that (yet).

    Posted by Q May 31, 11 01:33 PM
  1. Who eats dinner at 5:00? Can't you eat later or is there some reason why everyone has to eat at 5:00?

    Posted by CG May 31, 11 02:53 PM
  1. Is there a reason "family dinner hour" has to be at a time when the whole family can't make it? I get that people's schedules are all different so it is hard to always have everyone present. But if you have scheduled your day so that one person is *always* unable to be there... then you need to redo your schedule. It sends a pretty strong -- and negative -- message to your kid (unintentionally, I know) that she is not included. (I wonder if that is part of her refusal to converse when she does get to sit at the table with you?) If you can rework things so that a few nights a week you all just have a later dinner, that would be a good start.

    But I agree with Barbara that if she is serious enough about ballet to be taking class 5 days a week, then she needs to know about nutrition.. So you don't need to make this a "you must eat your veggies or else" fight; but telling her your concerns is fine.

    Also -- you say you have healthy foods available. But do you also have a lot of junk food/processed foods available? If so, cut back on those. If you don't have junk in the house, she won't be eating junk in the house.

    Posted by jjlen May 31, 11 03:13 PM
  1. "She rarely eats dinner with the family because of this kooky schedule."

    There must be small children in this family, hence the need for the parents to eat earlier.

    "Whenever I do eat with her,"

    That spunds like you're resentful. What's wrong with serving dinner twice, and sitting with other family members at different times?

    "I am offended by her bad table manners (doesn't converse, eats like a viking and saddened by her food choices (still hates salad, vegetables, etc)."

    Oh, well, your daughter is a teenager. They eat like Vikings. And they have weird food choices. It will pass.

    But:

    "What's more, since she's taking lessons five days a week, I'm wondering if her teacher hasn't talked to her about the importance of nutrition."

    ^^This^^

    A responsible dance school/instructor will require nutrition education, especially since it looks like your daughter is aiming for a career in ballet. Ask them about it. The School of the Boston Ballet requires nutrition education for its teen and young adult students.

    Posted by reindeergirl May 31, 11 03:25 PM
  1. Eat later, for everyone's sake. This is the only country where 5:00pm is considered dinner-time. Everywhere else, it's the middle of the afternoon. Little kids can have a snack when they get home from school if they can't last till dinner, or else - even more civilized - feed them early and then have a big people's dinner at 8:00pm. Your teenage daughter will appreciate being part of the adult world, and you'll all have a more relaxed meal.

    Posted by alien57 May 31, 11 09:01 PM
  1. Give her a snack on the car ride home. She's probably starving and possibly cranky as a result. Have a sitdown on the weekend about the upcoming week and decide which nights will be family dinner night and ask her for inputs on what she'd like to eat that night. Take her shopping and ask her opinion on snacks and the like. If the siblings are eating earlier then can they eat a bedtime snack or dessert while she's eating dinner? How about family lunch or breakfast? I'd let table habits go for the short-term but I would insist on some civilized conversation (assuming she's not cranky from hunger). If she can't respond to a few polite inquiries about her day then you all need to re-address your willingness to shell out $$$ for activities.

    Posted by PatD June 1, 11 11:49 AM
  1. This is sort of funny because Barbara is often writing about not making meals a power struggle, citing Ellyn Satter. I get that it's usually about younger children and that an athlete needs nutrition, but wouldn't power struggles be an issue with teens as well? It sounds like she is eating, so it's not a disordered eating situation, just not eating good stuff.
    For what it's worth, for two years in high school I spent my lunch money on fruit punch and peanut butter cups. Mainly because the school lunch was so disgusting, but also because I couldn't get that stuff at home. I came back around to healthy eating gradually and now I am a vegetable-holic.

    Posted by Missy June 1, 11 11:52 AM
  1. Like CG said, you eat between 5-6pm? Just change dinner time so the family eats after her ballet lesson. 6:30-7 isn't an unreasonable dinner time.

    Posted by Working Mom June 1, 11 01:58 PM
  1. I'd give the girl a break. She just finished staring at her body (and that of several other girls) in a mirror for an hour and a half, had a long hard workout after a long day at school and probably has homework to finish. I know I don't like to eat before exercising so perhaps that is why she is starving and cranky when she gets home. The last thing she needs is being harped on about her table manners and food choices. I would discuss it nicely with her at a time far removed from the situation and try to come up with a solution together. And while I agree that family meal time is important, if you've got busy teenagers in the house, I think you're doing well if you can manage it a few times a week. The last thing you want to do is take away her ballet as suggested by PatD. A bored, listless teenager hanging sullenly around the house is far worse than an active, motivated, albeit poor mannered, one.

    Posted by CordeliaPotter June 2, 11 09:37 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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