Teaching teens healthy eating habits might be an ongoing battle in your house but it’s worth it, says Jenny Matthau, Naural Gourmet Institute director.

In Part Three of Travelingmom founder TMOM Orlando’s interview with Jenny Mathau of the Natural Gourmet Institute, they discuss how Matthau has tried to teach her daughter healthy eating habits—an ongoing battle fought in many a household:

TMOM: I’m assuming your daughter eats similarly to how you do. How did you bring her on board?

Jenny: She did for a while. The first three years of my baby’s life, I cooked collard greens and pureed carrots and she loved that.  We were traveling and I had bought some prepared bananas. I tasted it and it was awful. I walked into a food stand at the airport, got a fork, took a banana, mashed it up and realized that it’s very easy to feed a baby. I had lots of control then.

TMOM: It must have gotten more difficult as she’s gotten older?

Jenny: As soon as they see what other kids have and learning about soda, you have to let go a little bit. When she was in junior high, she would go out with her friends and she told me what was in the neighborhood. It was Wendy’s, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Burger King—the few places that you can get a meal that is affordable. I tried to send her to this place that made salads and she was not interested at all, and the salads were expensive. So we compromised.  I would make her lunch. She would get something like a peanut butter sandwich, or hummus and vegetables. She would go with her friends so that she could be part of the whole social thing but she would bring her own food. One day a week I would let her eat out so she wouldn’t feel really deprived.

…you have to fight back in any way you can.

TMOM: And as a teenager?

Jenny: She’s 16 now. Oh, she still eats hummus or any tasty bean spread. She also loves pizza and pasta. She keeps telling me, “Mom, teenage girls have to have carbohydrates.” She would be very happy just eating cake, bread and pizza.  We have some control over what she eats in the morning. Sometimes we can get her to eat oatmeal. Often she just takes a piece of fruit. God knows what store she stops at and what she picks up!

TMOM: How do you feel about that? 

Jenny: I ate a lot worse than she did and I’m still walking around. You have to consider the emotional health of the child too.  If you try to be a control freak, I think that you’re going to make them extremely neurotic about food—and that’s not a good thing. I do make my daughter take vitamins.  Even though I feel that vitamins are not a replacement for a good diet.  I make her take fish oil, cod liver oil, and vitamin D everyday.  So at least I know that she’s getting that.

TMOM: I think the balance comes from your home. She’s going to have to make those choices eventually. 

Jenny: My daughter says, “Mom, every little thing that goes in my mouth isn’t going to kill me.” But then she finds herself telling her friends what I am telling her.  So I know it’s sinking in. I know that the older she gets, the less control I have over what she eats.  She’ll be away at school soon and then I will have no control over what she eats. I know that she will make wrong decisions sometimes. 

I actually did tell her a lie about McDonald’s.

TMOM: So the message that you are giving your daughter is not one of watch your weight, be careful what you look like. It’s about take care of your body, be healthy, these foods nourish you.  If you’re hungry and you’re just eating McDonald’s, it’s not doing anything for you. 

Jenny: I did actually tell her a lie about McDonalds. When she was four years old, she kept asking for a Happy Meal. McDonald’s advertising is everywhere and the idea that children are associating their food with a happy meal is infuriating to me because it’s the worst quality food.  It’s not just the hamburger; the french fries are at least half as bad, if not worse.  It’s all the sugar and the drinks. So I told her that the meals at McDonalds are very sad meals—they’re not happy meals. And I told her that the people that work at McDonalds break into people’s homes when they’re out at work and they steal their cats and dogs. And they grind them up and put them in the hamburger. 

TMOM: Did that work?

Jenny: Yes. She told her teacher and the teacher was horrified. She looked at me like I was a little crazy. But you have to fight back in any way you can.

Read Part 1