Garbage in – garbage out? What are we feeding them? Good nutrition is of paramount importance for teenagers. Teens who do not eat correctly are more likely to be overweight, lack energy and enthusiasm and perform poorly at school.
If you, the parent, guide your children to eat correctly throughout childhood and the teenage years, they will probably never have to worry about their weight or going on fashionable diets. Their skin, hair and eyes will look beautiful and you will rarely have to make trips to the doctors. It is easy, but for some parents, we have to make some changes!
A lot of us love takeaway meals, fast foods of the ease of picking up convenience suppers at the supermarket on our way home. We know that we are all busy; but what is really in those meals? We know that they are easy and tasty and please the kids, but the ingredients and the real nutritional value?
To eat healthily and teach our teens healthy eating habits, we need to cut down on fats in our diet. We all require a tiny amount of fat in our food, but not as much as we often ingest. Try to consider eating less meat, cheese, butter, cream, eggs, biscuits and cake. Most convenience foods are extremely high in fats and have been deep-fried or soaked in oil. Those fats clog up the arteries later in life and cause obesity in children or teens. The body cannot cope, on a regular basis, with the amount of fat present in a double cheese burger with fries. Be kind to your body and teach your teens to respect and care about their bodies, too.
Teach teens to cut down on sugar in their diets. There is no need to cut sugar out of the diet completely. A little bit of chocolate is really good for you! If your children are still little, train them to drink their tea or coffee without sugar. Don’t give sweets as a reward for good behavior, or as an incentive. Sugar adds empty calories to an everyday diet. Apart from adding unwanted weight, sugar rots teeth. Children who eat a lot of sugar are less likely to want to enjoy healthier food.
During the teen years there is significant bone, tissue and organ growth development. The brain is also still growing and maturing. To assist with all of this, the body needs extra iron and calcium.
Calcium is important for bone growth. The easiest way to include calcium in the diet is with dairy products. Iron is needed to promote lean body mass. Green, leafy vegetables are a great source of iron.
Eating breakfast is important, but be aware of most commercial cereals. They are full of sugar and preservatives. Fruit or fat-free yoghurt constitute a good breakfast. Shop-bought bread is filled with preservatives and flavourants which most of us cannot pronounce. If you don’t know how to pronounce it; don’t eat it. Definitely don’t give it to your kids. If you do not have the time to make your own bread every day; do not eat it.
Snacks between meals should be healthy items like carrot sticks or pieces of dried fruit. Easy snacks like packets of crisps are full of fat, salt and preservatives. Rather encourage a diet that includes a variety of fruit and vegetables. Some people think that good quality fruit and vegetables are too expensive. If you go to the supermarket after 16h00 most afternoons, many shops have marked down the prices of their fresh fruit and vegetables. Buying in bulk can also save you money. If you do not have a large family, you can share bulk packs with friends or neighbours or colleagues. Make the effort.
Encourage your teen to drink a lot of water, rather than consuming soft drinks. A bottle of cold water can be made more interesting by adding sliced cucumber, lemon, apple or strawberry quarters.
Teach your child or teen to stop eating when they are no longer hungry. Sometimes we eat just because the food is there, or because we feel bored. Eating when not hungry leads to unwanted extra kilograms.
If you need inspiration about menu plans or good food items, visit one of the places in your area which specialize in good and fresh fruit and vegetables. The variety of produce on display will give you good ideas which you will pass on to your teenagers.
By Tracy Freemantle, Teacher at Pinnacle College Kyalami