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"To eat or not to eat, that is the question"

So your kids (and adolescents) don't like what's for dinner. They'd prefer frozen waffles, syrup and ice cream. Here are guidelines for what you should be feeding yours.

Adolescent healthy eating - Girl with vegetables

We all know the easy route is to give in and prepare meals "my kids will eat". But how do you get them to eat what they need to be eating? For every family, the answer may be different. In this article, I won't be addressing HOW you get them to eat, but I would like to point out WHAT they should be eating and what you should avoid.

And what to avoid is as important as what to eat.

Cadence of Eating

As kids grow, they need constant nutrition. Their portions tend to be smaller, but their metabolism tends to be faster (than adults). On top of that, their activity level sores above that of their adult parents. It should be no surprise that many are constantly in the kitchen looking for snacks. The key is, what you have for them to snack on.

Kids and adolescents need to eat about every 3 hours. Though that seems extreme perhaps, it is a combination of meals and healthy snacks. A good cadence would be an early morning meal. Get them in the habit of starting the day by fueling their bodies well.

A mid-morning snack may be necessary to keep them feeling full, but it shouldn't be a meal. A nutritious snack of 80-140 calories is what you are after.

Lunch is the time for the second meal and a fill up on nutrients. Make sure you are including proteins, carbs and fats in all of their meals.

Again, mid afternoon, they will likely be looking for another snack. Hopefully, this is right after getting home from school. And just as hopefully, there are only healthy options to choose from. A pantry full of snack cakes and cookies will be too tempting to pass up.

Finally, a nutritious dinner will fill them for the evening. A light dinner likely means increased snacking before bed, and they need to avoid multiple trips to the kitchen in the evening, so ensure that they say they are full before they leave dinner.

An evening snack isn't a bad thing, but the choices we tend to make in the evening are generally poor. We will discuss some good choices later in the article.

What Adolescent Children should be eating

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are several things to always remember when grocery shopping and cooking for kids:

  • Increase Fibre and Decrease Salt

  • Drink Water as much as possible avoiding sugary drinks and sugar free drinks

  • Bake and Broil as often as possible vs. frying foods

  • Monitor and limit sugar intake

  • Eat fresh fruits vs. having fruit drinks

  • Eat more chicken and fish than red meat

There are 5 basic areas that need to be addressed in the adolescent diet, and some get way more attention than others. Two factors play into how our kids eat and they are tough to overcome:

  • Kids prefer things with lots of taste, and usually that taste is sweet

  • The foods that are best for our kids are usually the most pricey, forcing us to substitute with less nutritious alternatives for financial reasons

The 5 areas that you should try and ensure are in your kids' daily plan are: Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Dairy, and Proteins.

Snacks should be nutritious

Kids love sweets. At least, the vast majority love sweets, some prefer salty items. For those that love sweets, do your best to get them to eat berries for a snack. Fit Life Covered has a great article on Four Berries with Awesome Health Benefits. Start there. My big 3 reasons to like berries are simple: they are high in fibre, they are artery-opening superfoods, and they are sweet. I can convince my kids to have some berries when they crave sweets.

Protein snacks are available from companies like Clif Bar and RX Bar. These bars are low calorie products, typically packed with 15-24 grams of protein each. Protein is the building block of muscle and important to good muscular health. How much should your kids have each day? Most experts recommend 1 gram for ever 1 KG of body weight?

In the US, that translates to approximately 1-1.5 grams of protein for every 2 pounds of body weight. A 110 lb adolescent boy then, should be getting roughly 60-80 grams of protein in his daily dietary intake.

Unfortunately, what kids naturally eat is typically light on protein, so you will need to make some of your snack choices count by ensuring the snacks are packed with a bit of protein in them. Most are not.

Things to avoid feeding your adolescent child

According to the Mother Nature Network, there are several foods you should avoid feeding your kids. Here are a few of them.

Unhealthy snack or dinner - chips and pizza

Processed Meats - generally high in fat, sodium and preservatives

  • Sports Drinks - sold for their electrolytes, the sugar content typically overpowers any value received from the electrolytes. Straight water is a preferred alternative.

  • Kid's Yogurts - kid's yogurt is usually artificially colored and has added sugar. Yogurt isn't bad, but stick with adult Greek varieties that are typically solid nutritional choices.

  • Sugary Cereals - it doesn't matter if it looks sugary or not, most are. Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, LIfe and Kix were the only cereals Consumer Reports recommends (based on fiber and sugar content).

The Key

It's much simpler than we often think. Here's the key to healthy snacking.

  1. Don't take your kids to the grocery store with you if you can avoid it. They will ask for Pop Tarts, Potato Chips, and Snack Cakes, and face it, you'll likely give in.

  2. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. On the perimeter, you will find your vegetables, meats and dairy. About the only thing you will need to venture into the aisles for are your grains, and they should be purchased sparingly (for meals, not for snacks).

  3. Buy fruits and protein rich products for snacks. These items are generally lighter on sugar, and have multiple "redeeming qualities" that you just won't find in chips, candies, cakes, popcorns and cookies.

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