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"I may be a nutritionist but, like all moms, I still worry that my finicky teenager might not be eating right."
—Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, author of Read It Before You Eat It (Plume) and the mother of a 15-year-old (and two other sons now in college).
Bonnie's Stress-Solving Action Plan:
Don't be a personal chef! It's crazy to make more than one meal at a time when cooking for a family. But I will try to be accommodating if all I have to do is change an ingredient or two. For instance, one of my kids doesn't like his soup too thick or spicy, but the rest of my family does. I find it easier to set aside a portion before I add any spices and thin it out with broth, rather than make him a completely different dish.
Take shortcuts. It's okay to use prepared foods sometimes. My favorite quickies: a cut-up rotisserie chicken tossed with sauteed vegetables, or a dish of whole-wheat pasta, canned black beans and frozen veggies topped with cheese. When I'm very pressed for time: pancakes, a cheese omelet, a vegetable frittata or a salmon salad sandwich on whole-grain bread.
Serve finger foods no matter how old your kids are. When healthy food is sitting out, even teenagers will eat it. After school I leave a tray of chopped vegetables and sliced fruit on the kitchen counter, along with a dip of hummus or yogurt. Sometimes my 15-year-old even chills out with me for a few minutes as he snacks before rushing off to his room or out with his friends.
Speak their language. Talk to your children about nutrition in a way they can understand. For instance, tell them that the protein in chicken and fish will help build muscle, the iron in spinach will boost energy and the calcium in milk will strengthen bones and make them grow taller. In addition, let them know that omega-3 fatty acids in foods like salmon can help give them clear skin, shiny hair and strong nails.