How can you influence grown children's nutrition?

Parenting Image Gallery Believe it or not, you can still influence your children after they leave the nest. See more parenting pictures.
Parenting Image Gallery Believe it or not, you can still influence your children after they leave the nest. See more parenting pictures.
Bambu Productions/Getty Images

Parenting doesn't necessarily get easier just because your children are grown. In some ways, it gets harder. When the kids are young, you have more control over what happens at home, and you can tell them what to do. You set the rules. But when they're in their early 20s, you can't just boss them around.

That means if you're worried about your grown children's eating habits, you can't simply order them to eat right or else.


Every situation is different, of course. You might have a great relationship with your kids. They might seek your advice about what to eat, where to buy it and how to prepare it. Maybe your newly adult children realize they're at a crucial period in life and need your advice. After all, they're no longer growing boys and girls. If they consume the same amount and types of food now that they did when they were physically active teens, they may gain weight. And, as young adults, they're just starting to form their own habits and ways of doing things. It's so much better for people in their early 20s to establish healthy habits than it is to try to change things 15 or 20 years down the road.

If your child realizes all this, count your blessings and share everything you can about good nutrition with him or her.

But if you're like most people, and your young adult child is not eager for your advice, you'll have to be more creative. Keep reading for some ideas.


The Ideal and the Real

Here's the ideal: You've taught your child about good nutrition almost since the day he or she was born. You taught by example by serving and eating good, healthy foods: lots of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, easy on the fats and sodium, homemade rather than processed foods. You avoided junk foods and sugary drinks. Your child regularly joined you for family meals, helped you cook, and grew up understanding good nutrition and why it's important.

Unfortunately, many of us fall short of the ideal. Maybe you didn't understand as much as you should have about nutrition in your early years as a parent. Maybe you've learned more recently, possibly out of necessity.


On the other hand, maybe you knew better, but reality interfered. Sometimes you found yourself stopping at fast-food restaurants on the way home from soccer games, bringing home takeout food or frozen pizzas, throwing together meals from cans and boxes, and giving in to pleas for snacks and sodas.

Even if you set a reasonably good example, odds are your child strayed from it when at college or in that first apartment. Childhood's good habits vanish quickly in an atmosphere of late nights, limited time, tight money and scant cooking facilities. It doesn't help that campuses are filled with fast food options and vending machines.

If you're the parent of a college student or recent graduate, you know that for the last four years or so, your child's nutrition has probably been lacking. It's likely that his idea of cooking was adding hot water to ramen noodles.

Now that your kid has a job and a kitchen, how can you intervene to set things right? Read on for suggestions.


Nutrition and Psychology 101

If you want to get your kids to do what you want without being bossy, try a little camaraderie instead.
If you want to get your kids to do what you want without being bossy, try a little camaraderie instead.
Hans Neleman/Getty Images

Telling your kids what to do when they were rebellious teenagers and lived under your roof was challenging enough. Now they're grown, and more or less on their own. They don't want unsolicited advice, much less parents who are trying to boss them around.

With nutrition, as with so many things, you'll have more success if you approach your grown child as a friend, not as a dictator or lecturer.


  • If your child wants advice, give it in an informal, matter-of-fact way.
  • Tell anecdotes about your early days of shopping and cooking, humorous mistakes you made, and helpful things you learned.
  • Share things you've learned more recently about nutrition and cooking, including information about nutrition-related health problems. Avoid taking the next step of telling your child what to do. He or she can connect the dots.
  • Talk about nutrition and health-related articles in the news and on the Internet.
  • Invite your child to shop with you at a farmers market or store that sells healthy foods.
  • Encourage friendships and relationships that include visiting farmers markets, other shopping and cooking. Mention that cooking together can be fun and even romantic.
  • Hold your tongue if your child tells you about "discovering" some food you prepared or technique you used in vain when he or she was a kid. Young adults learn more readily from their peers. If a significant other can get your child to try healthy dishes, go with it. It doesn't matter that noses were turned up at your table.
  • Get at what matters to your child. Talk about how cooking saves money; discuss how eating local foods is good for the environment, or how good nutrition can help shed those pounds.

Advice is one thing. The power of the purse is another. Keep reading for ideas on using money in the crusade for better nutrition.


Gifts That Keep Giving

Your child has moved out of your house, the dorm or college apartment into more of a "real" home. This is an important time to help him or her establish good nutritional habits. It's also a time when your grown child needs lots of things to set up housekeeping. Your housewarming, graduation, birthday, holiday and "just because" gifts can help influence those habits.

These gifts that can help mold a young adult who cooks and eats well:


  • Kitchen gadgets. Fill a bowl or basket with measuring spoons and cups, can opener, utensils, hot pads, containers for leftovers, and other essentials.
  • Cookbooks. Shop for a beginner's cookbook that explains the basics, including nutritional information and tips on healthy eating. Look for recipes that are simple and use healthful ingredients.
  • Your recipes. Give your child a recipe box or booklet with your versions of his or her favorite (healthful) dishes.
  • Cookware. A good set of sturdy cookware can do wonders for the novice.
  • Magazine subscription. Find a magazine targeted to people in their 20s and 30s that offers nutrition advice and/or healthful recipes.
  • Small appliances. There's more to cooking than popping something in a microwave. Give a slow cooker and talk about how great it is to come home to find dinner ready. A countertop electric grill offers an easy and low-fat way to cook.
  • Groceries. Don't just buy the groceries for your grown child. He or she needs to learn to shop wisely alone. But special items such as herbs and spices, flavored vinegars, and olive oil can inspire cooking. If you live close enough, share an occasional "find" of something luscious from a farmers market.
  • Gift cards. Many markets that specialize in organics, local produce and fresh foods offer gift cards. They steer your child to the right place to make good choices.

Read on for lots more information on healthy cooking.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Ansel, Karen. "Healthy for Life: What to Eat in Your 20s, 30s, 40s, and Beyond." Fitness Magazine. (Accessed May 10, 2011)
  • Centeno, Chris Jai. "5 healthy eating tips from a celebrity chef." (Accessed May 9, 2011)
  • "Healthy Eating. Easy Tips for Planning a Healthy Diet and Sticking to It." (Accessed May 11, 2011)
  • "Nutrition for Children and Teens: Helping Your Kids Develop Healthy Eating Habits." (May 12, 2011)
  • Lieberman, Dave and Anahad O'Connor. The 10 Things You Need to Eat. Eat Smart. Get Healthy. Live Long. William Morrow. New York. 2010.
  • " "Steps to a Healthier You." U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed May 10, 2011)
  • National Institutes of Health. "Diet and Nutrition." Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. (Accessed May 9, 2011)
  • Oliver, Jamie. "Teach Every Child About Food." Transcript. (Accessed May 10, 2011)
  • Oz, Daphne. The Dorm Room Diet, Revised and Updated. Newmarket Press. New York. 2010.
  • Family Education. "Parenting a Young Adult." (Accessed May 9, 2011)
  • "Congratulations Jamie Oliver - 2010 TED Prize Winner." (Accessed May 7, 2011)
  • "Beating the Freshman 15." Nemours. (May 6, 2011)