Eating well

Eating a balanced diet and being active is essential not only for physical health but also mental health. Changes in lifestyles, social values and spending power means there is increased reliance on snacks and fast-food.

Youth Mental Health Ireland Eating WellYoung people should eat a balanced diet with three good meals consumed each day to meet the high nutrient demands of growing up.


While ‘grazing’ throughout the day can be healthy if it’s part of a balanced diet, in practice it often results in a diet too high in fat and sugar and low in other essential nutrients.

But, there’s a lot you can do as a parent to encourage your son/daughter to develop healthy eating habits.

Family meals

Make time to sit and enjoy healthy meals as a family. While this can be a challenge, eating meals together has a range of benefits.

Research in the US found that when teenagers take part in regular family meals, where there’s a positive atmosphere, they have:

  • less substance use
  • better academic success
  • better mental health
  • fewer unhealthy weight control behaviours.

It also provides an opportunity for sharing, which can help your son/daughter feel more valued and appreciated.

Positive food role model

Your eating habits as a parent have an important effect on the eating habits of your son/daughter. If you’re positive about eating healthy foods and enjoy your food, your son/daughter is more likely to be this way too.

Similarly, if you’re negative about eating certain food, focused on body weight or use food as a way of comforting yourself, this may affect the way your son/daughter responds to food.

Watch what you say

Think about how you as a parent talk about and respond to food. Be careful when saying things like

  • I’m being good – in relation to restricted eating
  • You’ve lost weight – it can be harmful
  • I deserve it – when talking about less-healthy foods.

To create a positive relationship with food:

  • Take a balanced approach to food, including enjoying a treat e.g. pizza, chocolate every now and then.
  • Involve your child in shopping for food and planning and preparing meals.
  • Separate eating from other activities such as watching television or using the computer.

For more information about balanced meals and recipe ideas have a look at


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