A parent could give their child all the produce in the garden and they may still eat unhealthy foods when they’re away from home. For teenagers, access to junk food, busier social schedules, and peer pressure can all make eating healthy a challenge.

By teaching teens the value of good nutrition, you can increase the odds of them reaching for an apple instead of a candy bar when they’re out. Here are a few practices you can start today to ensure your teens maintain healthy eating habits anywhere, anytime.

1. Set a good example.

The more at-home family meals, the better a teen’s health. Children and teens who often share meals with family are more likely to eat healthier foods and maintain a healthy weight. So try serving healthy family dinners at least three times a week.

When life gets hectic, shared breakfasts and weekend lunches offer the same benefits. Family togetherness at mealtime instills values in your child around healthy eating they’ll carry with them wherever they go.

2. Teach them to make smart fast-food choices.

When your teens go out with their friends, they want to fit in. When the gang ends up at a fast-food joint, make sure your teens know to choose what’s best for their body. For example, choosing a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a bacon cheeseburger, or a small order of fries instead of the super-size are both steps in the right direction.

Also, encourage your kids to drink an adequate amount of water.  These days, it’s cool to carry a water bottle so make sure kids use it when they’re eating out.

3. Give them options at school.

As kids enter high school, they can eat from the vending machine instead of the school cafeteria if they want to. In some cases, the school cafeteria doesn’t do a much better job at providing healthy alternatives.

If you purchase cafeteria meals for your child, stress the importance of healthy choices whenever possible. For example, encourage them to choose salads, fruits and vegetables and lean protein over pizza and hot dogs.

It’s about making smart choices in less-than-ideal situations.

4. Send them to school with a healthy lunch and/or snacks.

In some environments, it’s not cool to bring your lunch. And an insulated lunchbox? That’s often a big no, too.

Even if your teen complains, encourage your child to take some healthy food to school. If you can get away with it, pack a lunchbox. Possible ingredients include a sandwich on whole-grain bread, yogurt, apples, baby carrots and dip and string cheese.

If the lunchbox is a no-go, try nonperishable items such as a PB&J sandwich, whole-grain pretzels, almonds, an apple or even a well-balanced protein bar. If your teens have a few healthy snacks on hand, they are less likely to raid the vending machine.

5. Get them involved in meals.

When you recruit your kids to help grocery shop, cook and meal prep, they’re more likely to think about healthy options. Let them help plant a garden or prepare dinner. As they get older, encourage them to pack their own lunch. You might be surprised by the good choices they make.

Try this Far East-inspired fried rice dish that’s richly flavored with soy sauce and packed with protein:

6. Explain the need for “high octane” fuel.

Many middle school and high school students participate in one or more sports. Among other benefits, sports programs provide a great opportunity for teens to learn about the benefits of eating quality food.

It only takes about of nausea or an upset stomach or two for a teenager to learn they feel better competing after a protein shake than a fatty fast-food meal. With good gas in the tank, they’ll have more energy at practice and finish the game strong.

As parents, we can’t control everything our growing child eats. But by establishing a healthy foundation, we can give them the tools to make healthy choices now and well into adulthood.

Susan Bowerman

Susan BowermanM.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

Susan Bowerman is the senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife. She also serves as the Vice Chair of the Dietetic Advisory Board (DAB). As a registered dietitian, she educates distributors about our global nutrition philosophy and is responsible for developing nutrition education and training materials. Bowerman earned a B.S. in Biology with distinction from the University of Colorado and an M.S. in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She is a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and holds two board certifications as a specialist in Sports Dietetics and in Obesity and Weight Management. When she is not busy teaching and writing, Susan enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and gardening. Her favorite Herbalife products include Simply Probiotic and Herbalife Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix Banana Caramel.