Problem Solving – How to feed a Teenager.

Welcome to a new feature for WoogsWorld called Problem Solving. It is where you can write to me ([email protected]) with your problem, and I will source an expert in that particular field to help you solve it. It can be anything, like what colour should I paint my house? Or where can I find the best plus-sized jeans. Or why won’t my kids speak to me in public? ANYTHING!

This week we are kicking off with a problem I am having. My oldest son Horatio is eating me out of house and home I cannot fill him up. So I asked Katie Railbird, Nutritionist and smart cookie, to help out! And if you are into healthy living, visit her blog here. 

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So your kid is eating you out of house and home, you find yourself standing next to them in the kitchen as they raid the pantry and wonder … “Have I SHRUNK? Is peri-menopasual bone density loss a thing now??”

You have a pubertal person in your house and their growth hormone is on fire.

Everything is being commanded to grow, grow, grow! Develop, reach maturity, flourish, start your engines.

The skeleton is storing bone nutrients, the muscle mass increases, body fat deposits into special places to trigger sexual maturity, hair sprouts, vocal chords thicken and attitudes take a total nose dive into despairingly unsteady waters.

It ‘aint pretty, and this is just for the observers. Poor wee mites dealing with all of THAT plus school, relationships, peer pressure and the full on pace of the modern day lifestyle.

So battling their diets can be one of those extra things that just tips you over day in and day out – because you’ve got to feed them EVERY DAY don’t you?

Mrs Woog asked me what she ought to be feeding Horatio who is at the onset of tweenhood and growing overnight.

So the following advice is relevant, but not exclusive to, an eleven year-old boy whom I assume has no dietary restrictions. (It must be noted that this is not an official dietary protocol as it is against my professional guidelines to “treat” people in this fashion.)

To keep it simple I’m just going to say this: in the absence of a clinically significant need to eliminate foods or work toward weight loss, ensure Horatio’s diet features these foods as a majority:

Pasture raised meat, certified free range poultry and eggs, full cream dairy, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, good fats (butter, coconut oil, ghee, olive oil), a variety of seasonal fresh produce and aim to bake or make most of his sweet foods (cakes, slices, muffins, cookies etc.)

The minority of his diet can feature (although I’m not recommending it): ready made treats, fried foods, soft drink. But you’ve gotta LIVE don’t you? It can’t be all or nothing, that’s boring, restrictive and likely to result in non-compliance from a teenager.

The keys to setting your children up with a lifetime healthy relationship with food is to lead by example, to discuss openly, to share the shopping, prepping, cooking and eating.

For example, my 5 year old loves basil pesto, but alas! she doesn’t like my home made version, sob sob sob. So I showed her the varieties available at our local supermarket and we read the ingredients labels together until we found one that was the least loaded with crap. The main culprit with ready-made basil pesto is the oil that’s used, it’s vegetable oil not olive oil but you’d be surprised what else food manufacturers will add.

So now she has been given a lesson in a: why I’d prefer her to eat home made and b: how to make the best choice. And as the years pass by I’ll transition her to eating home-made and we’ll make it together. Then when she leaves home she’ll know how to make basil pesto.

Right, so how do we achieve a largely whole foods diet for Horatio? Here’s a sample day:

Breakfast: a smoothie made with a frozen banana, 1 cup of whole fat milk (organic or A2), 2 tablespoons of pulsed sunflower seeds (pulse them first then build on top), a tablespoon of honey and an egg. A piece of sourdough toasted with peanut butter.

Morning tea: a home-made muesli bar loaded with whole rolled oats, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds, add some dark chocolate buttons for compliance! and a tub of whole fat yoghurt.

Lunch: leftover roast chicken sandwich, chopped with mayonnaise, seasoned well and dressed with a handful of snow pea sprouts (sprouts are rich in protein), wrapped up into flat bread. A tub of hummus, a few pieces of hard feta and some fresh cut carrot sticks.

Afternoon tea: Rice cakes with nut butter and honey. Or cottage cheese and tomato. Or ricotta and apricot jam. A handful of nuts. Or a serve of brown rice pudding. Or a boiled egg smashed and mixed with mustard and mayonnaise and rolled up into an iceberg lettuce leaf. A couple of home-made snack balls made on dried fruit with nut meal. Or some home-made cookies loaded with nuts and seeds. Or a bowl of muesli.

Dinner: Hand cut potato chips, baked in the oven with a mixed leaf salad and a serve of meat.

Snack/dessert: Home-made custard with stewed apples or pears, or a banana; sprinkle over chia seeds. A serve of home-baked bread and butter pudding. A serve of good quality ice cream with home-made berry syrup (buy Australian grown berries and simply stew down with a tablespoon or two of sugar or honey, you can add chia seeds to this to thicken and add a little bit of nutritional value.)

Eat freely: fresh fruit and vegetables.

How does Mrs Woog go about getting these foods up and running whilst also doing the zillion other things she has to do?

Baked goods and snack balls can be made in bulk on the weekends or one afternoon after school, as a family activity. Wrap individually and freeze.

Custard, stewed fruits and berry syrups can be made ahead of time too. It really doesn’t take much to use up some old pears and apples, slice them, sprinkle over a bit of sugar, add a splash of water and leave them to simmer away whilst you tidy up after dinner or wait for the kids to finish showering.

Hand cut chips can be cut ahead of time and partially cooked: simmer them until just tender then strain off water and return to a dry heat to fluff them up. Spread onto a baking tray and store in the fridge. Then lug over olive oil, season well and bake until crisp when you’re ready.

Little tubs of humus and feta cubes can be prepared ahead of time, then just add fresh sliced carrots, snow peas, capsicum strips or whatever fresh vegetable your kid will eat and away you go.

I could break this down into what foods are best when your child is amidst a growth spurt, but the simple truth is that all foods are best, providing that a wide variety of foods are offered and consumed.

Naturally there’s protein for muscle tissue, hair, skin, nails, hormones and neurotransmitters. Iron for oxygenation of all cells and to prevent iron deficiency in menstruation. Calcium for bone growth and bone nutrient loading. Zinc for hormone function. Essential fatty acids for reproductive health and central nervous system function, but perhaps Mrs Woog will have me back to extend on this in more detail.

If Mrs Woog was in my clinic space, I’d advise her that growth spurts and accompanying appetite increase is normal and healthy. As highlighted in my opening paragraphs, Horatio is laying down his adult muscle mass, storing bone modeling nutrients for life*, and preparing for reproductive maturity.

Remember how hungry you were when you were pregnant? Yeah, that baby is still growing at a rapid rate!

Try not to be alarmed or consider it a problem. Increase meal frequency, but keep portions smaller and try to pack in the nutrition where you can.

Teach him how to choose foods at the markets, ask him what he’d like to learn to cook and make a date to try it together at home. Start educating him on how to read ingredients panels.

Most importantly: lead by example. Our children mimic our dietary behaviour, you might not see it yet but it will come to light in their adult years.

*The teenage years are vital for bone modeling nutrients. Never again will the skeleton reserve as much calcium, so I will strongly advise to LIMIT soft drinks as they leech calcium from the skeleton and to ensure (where possible) that organic, whole fat, naturally flavored dairy is offered when you’re considering dairy foods.

*Further: don’t get so hung up on dairy/calcium that you overload them with these foods as they can end up pushing iron metabolism out of the way: calcium and iron compete with each other for absorption (again, I may come back with more information!)

Thanks Katie! Check out her suggested recipes here.

Anyone else being eaten out of house and home?