NOURISHING TWEENS: How to encourage healthy eating

This week we have asked one of Sydney's leading nutritionists, Kathryn Hawkins, to give us tips on how to encourage healthy eating with your tween. Kathryn is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Accredited Nutritionist (AN), Presenter and busy Mum. She is recognised as a nutrition expert in the areas of women's health & wellness; treating and preventing eating disorders; non-dieting approach to weight loss; body image; paediatric nutrition. She is also the co-founder of the popular BodyLove eCourse. You can follow Kathryn on Facebook or Instagram or visit her site here.

During the tween years there are some positive steps you can take to try and nurture them through and promote good eating habits along the way. There are also two key nutrients that parents need to be aware of, as they can easily be overlooked and, in some cases, have long-term effects on their health.


Puberty is a very important time for bone growth and development because it’s when most of our bone mass is formed. From about the age of 10 and all through the teenage years there is a dramatic increase in bone growth and bone density in both boys and girls.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGTHE) suggests children and teens between the ages of 9-18 need three to four servings of dairy each day.

Unfortunately, this vital need for calcium seems to coincide with teenagers, particularly girls, being fussy with food and often being influenced by their peers. This can mean that cutting out food groups becomes trendy and, often, dairy is one of the first to go, along with meat!


Tweens need more iron because of their expanding blood volumes and growing muscle mass. Girls also have extra iron needs once their periods start. Red meat is one of the richest sources of iron, with poultry, fish and seafood are also excellent sources.

A vegetarian diet can provide enough iron too, but vegetarians usually need to be more aware of the foods they are eating to get enough. A vegetarian diet is not simply ‘cutting out the meat’, and it is a responsibility that a tween needs to be aware of. Vegetarian sources of iron include green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fortified cereals, and it would be wise to see a dietitian if your tween has decided to become a vegetarian, to make sure they have a full understanding of the way they need to eat.

My 8 tips for helping tweens improve their nutrition:

  1. Being a positive role model is one of the best ways to help your tween make healthy food choices. Taking a balanced approach to food is helpful. All foods, in moderation, can fit into a healthy eating plan. This might mean having a food that you enjoy that is high in sugar and fat every now and then, but not all the time.
  2. The words you use to describe food send messages too - avoid describing food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Try talking about some foods as being more nourishing, or some foods being ‘everyday’ foods. Try to keep the language around food positive!
  3. Encourage your tween to pay attention to her body’s hunger cues. Tweens and teens tend to eat out of boredom at times, and at times they ‘forget to eat’. Try and encourage a regular pattern of eating rather than just when they remember or feel like it!
  4. Make time to sit and enjoy healthy meals as a family. This encourages your tween to eat well and helps to keep you connected. Employ some rules at meal times such as staying at the table until everyone has finished.
  5. Give your tween a say in healthy family eating by involving him in grocery shopping and planning and preparing meals. You could even get your tween browsing recipe books and websites for you.
  6. Young people tend to be motivated by the ‘here and now’ rather than long-term consequences. Encourage your tween to make healthy choices by talking about how food can help with concentration, performance and feeling good. This is likely to be more meaningful to your tween than information about longer-term health risks.
  7. Fill your cupboard and fridge with nutritious snacks and meals. Your tween can take these from home when going out so that they don’t need to buy food. Purchased food is often less healthy than what we can bring from home. Some ideas are vegetable sticks with dip, fresh or dried fruit, nuts, wholegrain crackers, cheese or yogurt.
  8. Don’t have sugary drinks available in the house and encourage your tween to drink water instead! Buy a water bottle and encourage them to fill it 3 times in the day.
Kathryn Hawkins
Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn lives with her husband, daughter and much loved cavoodle on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. She enjoys sailing, skiing, reading, fabulous food (particularly cheese), French champagne and a good Australian Shiraz.

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