When your kids were living at home, you had some control over what they ate. Maybe you had family dinners or bought the groceries for the house. But now that your kid is leaving the nest, they will have full control over what they do and don’t put in their bodies. Hopefully, you’ve been supporting healthy eating habits and that knowledge will stay with them into their post-high school lives. If you haven’t, all hope is not lost. Either way, there are a few things you can continue to do to encourage your young adult to eat healthy.
Make Sure They Have Basic Cooking Skills
“I’ll be honest, I don’t have a lot of expertise in that area. The one time my mom let me make an egg she thought I was going to burn the house down.” – Jasman, Class of 2018, New Jersey
Maybe cooking together has always been a family activity at your house. But even if it hasn’t, you can work with your teen before they leave to make sure they know some basic skills. Do they know how to boil water and run a stove or microwave? Can they make basic food for themselves, like eggs, soup, sandwiches, or salads? If not, get in the kitchen and teach them! Florida-based registered dietician Roniece Weaver recommends assigning a simple cooking task while they’re still at home until their skills improve. It can be a great way to get them excited about cooking and inspired to do it on their own. You may be pleasantly surprised how quickly they are able to make full, healthy meals on their own.
Or if you’re up for it, try taking an intro cooking class together. It can be a fun way to learn some new skills while also being a great bonding experience before they move out. Even if they have moved out, you can still take a class together. It can be a great opportunity to keep the lines of communication open. You can also gift a cooking class that they could take with their friends, or suggest websites that either have recipes with video help or teach cooking skills. Connecticut-based nutritionist Dr. Deb Kennedy recommends the website Craftsy for help.
3 Healthy and Easy Meals Young Adults Need to Know How to Make
From grain and veggie bowls to ramen and overnight oatmeal, these recipes will help you ensure your young adult has a few meals they can make on their own.
Send a Healthy Care Package
Whether they’re in college or living out on their own, a care package can be a great way to say “I care” while also encouraging healthy habits. Instead of including candy or chips, try packing dried fruit and nut mix, different kinds of flavored or herbal teas, or whole wheat pretzels. Missouri-based pediatrician Natasha Burgert says a meal subscription, like HelloFresh or Blue Apron, can be another great gift. So is a gift certificate to a local grocery store.
If you like to make homemade care package gifts, try replacing traditional cookies made with butter and lots of sugar with a lighter banana oat cookie. If you have a couple of overripe bananas on hand, just mash them together with some rolled oats, chopped nuts, and a little cinnamon. Form them into cookies and bake them for 15 minutes at 350 degrees for a surprisingly sweet and healthy alternative to sugar-laden cookies. Kennedy says homemade granola and jerky are also yummy treats that your child can grab and go during this busy time in their lives.
Have a favorite food blog or recipe website you follow? Share it with your adult children. Do your kids have a site they like? Have them share it with you. When a recipe catches your eye that looks healthy and simple, share it. Better yet, try new recipes together – even if you’re not physically in the same place. You can each take turns picking a new recipe to try regularly and report back what you thought – once a week, once a month, whatever works with your schedules. Remember to share photos of the finished product! Not only is it a great way to get everyone eating healthy, but it can be a fun way to stay in touch.
Remind Them of Health Benefits
For some first-year college students, the dreaded “Freshman 15” is enough to keep them eating healthy. But there are a lot of other benefits to eating healthy that they can relate to. In the long run, not eating healthy can lead to risk factors for certain diseases like diabetes and heart disease. It’s also important to discuss family health history, such as if high cholesterol runs in the family. That can mean your teen needs to be more careful around foods that raise cholesterol than their peers. Even though those consequences can seem far off for some young adults, you can still highlight the benefits they can get from proper nutrition and exercise right now. Eating well and keeping active will help them focus on their studies or job, as well as create energy so they can excel at what they are working on. Weaver says encouraging young adults to start a MyPlate account to track food can help with late-night food runs. Knowing how much they eat can help them identify ways to spread total intake out over the course of the entire day.
In addition, don’t forget to remind them of some of the downsides of alcohol consumption to their health. In addition to increasing their risk for being sexually assaulted and impairing their decision-making ability, alcohol is full of empty calories and can lead to overeating during and after a night of drinking.
Don’t Pressure Them
They are, after all, adults. If you notice they’ve put on weight or lost weight, try not to make it a big event or pressure them into losing or gaining weight, unless it is extreme or their health is declining. Many young adults struggle with their weight and appearance, and their weight may fluctuate at times.
“As much as you may be disturbed by your child’s weight gain, it is best to take a back seat and supportive role,” says Kennedy. “Be there if they want to talk about it, but continually bringing attention to their weight gain may have a negative effect on an already uncomfortable and sometimes shameful experience.”
Kennedy recommends parents only discuss weight in relation to other health signs. For example, do they seem to be depressed or anxious about school? Is eating a way that they’re coping with their feelings? If so, talk about their reasons for overeating and not their weight on a scale. If they otherwise seem fine, cut them some slack and don’t bring it up.