Healthy Eating Habits for Middle Schoolers

As your middle schooler grows and develops, you may notice they start to eat a lot more. Their body is growing and additional food fuels this growth spurt.

However, you may also notice that their eating habits start to shift. Perhaps they begin to shy away from fruits and veggies in favor of more sugar-filled, packaged foods. Whether your middle schooler is mirroring the food habits of classmates or simply wants to spend their allowance on junk food, you may start to feel like the food values you worked hard to instill during childhood have flown out the window. But there are steps you can take to help guide your pre-teen towards healthy eating habits.

Be their healthy eating role model.

The best way to reinforce your middle schooler’s healthy eating habits is to show them that healthy eating is important to you. There are many ways to do this. Eat breakfast each morning and choose the healthier option when out at a restaurant. Bring your middle schooler along on weekly grocery trips.

Most importantly, make time to enjoy healthy meals with each other as a family. This is one of the best and easiest ways to, not only model healthy habits but to also increase your child’s overall enjoyment of food. Bonus: You get to spend quality time together as a family, catching up on the events of the day.

Create an environment that encourages healthy eating.

It is much easier for your middle schooler to make good food choices if your family’s home encourages healthy eating.

So, how can you do this?

  • Ask your middle schooler to assist with the food shopping and weekly menu planning.
  • Motivate them to take ownership of one family meal each week — from planning to serving!
  • Limit the unhealthy options available in the house and make healthy options easily accessible. For example, keep fresh fruit out on the counter, chopped vegetables in the fridge, and plenty of healthy snacks in the cupboard.
  • Cook with them. You can teach them how to make their favorite dishes right at home or enroll them in a cooking class. There are a variety of great cooking classes available right here in the Phoenix area —

Initiate a food dialogue.

The way you talk to your pre-teen about food can have a big impact on their eating habits. Try highlighting the positive effects of healthy eating, rather than speaking to the negative impacts inherent in an unhealthy diet.

Here are some ideas to get you started –

  • As motivation for healthy eating, talk to your middle schooler about how food directly impacts concentration, success in school, athletic ability, and mental wellbeing. Pre-teens and teenagers can have trouble conceptualizing the long-term health risks of unhealthy eating. However, knowing the impact these choices can have on their present lives may prove more meaningful.
  • Encourage your middle schooler to eat when they’re hungry (remember: growth spurts) but to stop when they’re full. Over time, your middle schooler will begin to recognize the difference between eating out of hunger and eating from boredom or fatigue.
  • Steer clear of restricting foods or labeling them as “good” and “bad.” Alternatively, try to aim for a balance. Eat healthy foods the majority of the time and have a treat every now and again.

If you need help with your middle schooler’s nutrition or you’re concerned about their eating habits, the staff at Doorways is here to help. If you are interested in how our services may benefit your family in the Phoenix metro area, give us a call today.

Is Exercise Good for Your Mental Health?

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, there are a tremendous amount of benefits to exercising for adolescents including maintaining a healthy weight and the prevention of certain diseases later in life. Additionally, exercise provides better academic performance and the creation of a lifetime of healthy habits.

In addition to physical health benefits, adolescents who exercise also experience benefits to their mental health. Exercise can lead to lower rates of depression. These lower rates can be attributed to the fact that adolescents who exercise have a higher self-esteem which is linked to lower levels of depression. It is noted that this can be especially important for adolescent girls who tend to experience more depression than adolescent boys.


A recent publication by the Harvard Medical School evaluates a study that supports the idea that exercise is good for adolescent mental health. Particularly for those already receiving formal treatment. What they found was that for those adolescents the addition of exercise leads to a moderate improvement in their depression.


Based on the results, while exercise can help a depressed adolescent, it is not necessarily a substitute for more formal treatment. We should also note that this is referring to a healthy amount of exercise. During its Risky Business campaign, Mental Health America has discussed exercise extremes.


These extremes include those that don’t exercise enough and those that exercise too much. Let’s explore this as it relates to adolescents so parents can be aware of a healthy amount of exercise for their teens since we know that can positivity impact their mental health.


A person that does not exercise enough has an increased risk for certain physical health issues, but it can also contribute to depression and anxiety.


On the other extreme is someone who compulsively exercises. A compulsive exerciser or one that is addicted to exercising will miss out on obligations. If they do miss a workout, it can lead to feelings of guilt and/or sadness. Additionally, they may continue to exercise despite an injury or illness.


If your teen is not getting enough exercise, here are some ways to encourage them to begin an exercise program.


  • First, speak with your family doctor and make sure there are no special considerations to consider before beginning an exercise regimen.


  • Begin at a slow pace and gradually work up to more difficult activities.


  • Get someone like a friend or relative to join so that they can motivate and hold one another accountable.


If you have a teen that is a compulsive exerciser you can help them take control and get into a healthier workout regimen.


  • Change up workout routine to include less strenuous workouts or take days off from working out altogether.


  • Discuss healthy body types.


  • Make sure your teen is getting adequate nutrition from the food they are eating.


  • Don’t allow negative self-talk. For example, putting down their body type or thinking they are lazy.


  • Encourage a discussion about healthy exercise habits and ask your teen if they are struggling with what that is.


If your teen is struggling with either compulsive exercising or depression, know when to seek the help of a mental health professional.


Doorways LLC. is a faith-based counseling organization in Phoenix, Arizona, that provides comprehensive outpatient treatment focused exclusively on 13-25-year olds and their families specializing in treatment for eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety/OCD, substance abuse, depression, ADD/ADHD, self-harm, suicide prevention, and family counseling.