Food tips for teens

20 September 2018 Feature

Adolescence is the time in a child’s life when their body changes physically into an adult. By this time, children will reach their full height potential. It is also the time they will experience emotional, social and intellectual stages that will mold them into the adult they will become.

As for nutrition, this is the time your child tends to grow out of your watchful eye and wants to start making nutrition choices on their own.

As a nutrition consultant for several private schools in Kuala Lumpur, I observed that primary school parents and administration have strict guidelines such as no excessive sugar, salt and processed foods with coloring.

But for high school teens, the parents were the total opposite. They were not the least bit involved. The teens demanded all kinds of unhealthy foods high in sugar and deep-fried foods.

It’s funny how parental influence and support can change as soon as they feel the child enters their teens.

My advice to you as a parent is to still be mindful and gently guide your teen to learn to make wise food choices. This is a life stage that can be very challenging for your child as they develop a sense of body image for themselves. Leading by example is a strong influence on them as they can see that health and nutrition are key family values.

Here are some tips on you may find helpful for your growing teen:

Puberty hits

Puberty is the time of a great physical development, including a change in weight and height. This is known as a growth spurt. This requires a large amount of energy intake which the child gets from nutrition.

Girls usually began their growth spurt sooner than boys, between 10 and 13 years old. Boys generally will start around 12 to 15 years.

When the growth spurt starts, your adolescent will start to eat more. This is to support higher energy needs.

Hence, it’s important to ensure that they eat nutritious foods and stay physically active so that the growth spurt will ensure they grow up big and lean.

If they fill up on foods that are just high in calories and low in nutrition - plus being sedentary — they’re going gain weight and excess body fat.

Research shows that overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight adults.

Plus, with the shaping of bad eating habits at adolescents, this sets the tone for them ending up with future chronic health diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Iron and calcium

Many people assume that iron deficiency happens only to teen girls because they menstruate.

The truth is, teen boys are also at risk because their bodies have a greater need for the mineral than their intake.

When your adolescent is deficient in iron, they can feel tired and a decreased ability to concentrate and stay focused to learn.

Good sources of iron is red meat (beef and lamb), dark leafy green vegetables, iron-fortified grains, and breakfast cereals as well as dried fruit. Include red meat two to three times a week in their diet. Always take a vitamin C rich food, such as a fruit or fruit juice, together with iron to help with its absorption.

Many Malaysian teens stop drinking milk and taking dairy products. This is the time they start drinking carbonated drinks because it is portrayed as cool and mature. Drinking milk just make one look like a baby.

It’s a shame, really, because dairy products are one of nature’s best sources of calcium. But remember that their skeletal frame is still developing and growing all the way up to the age of 25.

Sodium, the compound that you find in salt, works against calcium by drawing it out and excreting it in urine. The lack of calcium in the body will then need to be taken from bones and teeth. This makes them more brittle.

Teens tend to consume a lot of high-sodium foods such as carbonated drinks, titbits, and fast foods.

Nutrition resource

Sometimes, your teen may feel like you’re nagging them when you talk about their food intake. But remember, they may be more open to listening to someone else.

Consider bringing your teen to visit a dietitian to learn more about nutrition to help you find the unique balance of a diet that works well for them.

Your dietitian is a good resource for answers to questions you have, recipes, reading resources and know-hows to help you plan out your meals - so use them!

Learn through action

Ignite your teen’s skill to cook, even if it’s just frying an egg or making a simple sandwich. Teens love to cook but sometimes we never have the patience to teach them. Even if you don’t like to cook personally, don’t let that stop your teen’s enthusiasm.

A client of mine, who is a working mother, never had the time to cook. But I noticed that her teen son enjoyed the hands-on activity of cooking. So I encouraged him to watch cooking TV shows and YouTube videos to make simple dishes. Now her son cooks dinner for the family. The mother was truly astonished nonetheless!

Encouraging your teen to cook is a crucial step as it empowers them to understand the role of food and eating. Plus, it helps them to be in control of using better quality ingredients and to be more mindful of proper portions.

Find new favorites

Clean out your house of non-nutritious foods that your teen cannot seem to resist such as chips, sodas, cookies, etc. Don’t buy them and don’t store around. Having them around the house will constantly keep you in conflict on whether you should eat it or not.

Instead, go grocery shopping with your teen and look for better foods and drinks to buy to replace the junk foods.

Make it fun

Encourage your child to stay active. Spend time by doing fun activities together such as biking, walking or hiking. Getting regular exercise is sorely missing in a teen’s daily routine nowadays.

Research shows that being sedentary is one of the contributing factors for teen obesity.

Rather than rewarding your teen with gadgets and material things that keep them even more sedentary, spending time together doing activities is even more priceless as it is good for the mind, body, and soul.

Embrace this new life stage of being a nutrition influence on your growing teen. The prudent care and attention you give them will go a long way in helping them prevent chronic health issues later on when they become an adult.