I recently flew to Maui with my 14 year old nephew, Trey, for some bonding time. I don’t have children of my own so I had a mix of emotions as the time grew closer to my one-on-one adventure with a teenager. I wanted to make sure I got his adrenaline pumping, taught him about a new culture, and most important to me, I hoped I could instill in him some healthier eating habits while he was under my care.
Trey, like many teenagers, is a junk food junkie. He taught me more than I ever dreamed of about fast food combos on this trip. Did you know Burger King has Cheetos flavored fried macaroni and cheese? Steak & Shake will pour extra garlic butter on your burger bun and add fake processed cheese instead of a regular slice if asked! But like many parents and family members, I fall back on the notion that food is love and because of that, I actually purchased these items for him in the first day. But ultimately, I felt guilty for being a participating party in spending money on what I know is harmful to him.
Realizing I had to dig deep and throw out the need to be the “cool Aunt,” I put my foot down. I started by sharing with Trey all of the times I purposely misled him in the past years by sneaking in healthy foods when he least suspected it. When I told Trey I fed him a tofu corndog multiple times when he was younger, he looked horrified at the news! In the most dramatic teenager astonished face, he asked me, “Aunt Kim…Why?!” I explained that it was because I cared about him and his health, and that there are a lot of yummy options for healthy and responsible eating that are actually good for you. I also confessed it had not been the first time…remember the time I bought you those gummy bears, well they were made with fruit juice and vitamins, or PB&J (it was almond butter), or the pie we made together for Thanksgiving (I subbed apple sauce in when you weren’t looking).
I thought this may impact the bonding we were supposed to have on this trip but thankfully, he seemed to understand that I had the best intentions for him. Over the course of the trip, I got Trey to at least open his mind to the possibility of eating nutritious foods and he listened to me. Granted he didn’t have much of a choice as we were stuck in the car for hours at a time with no internet connection = no phone = no Pokemon! I explained how food could help him play better basketball, score better on his tests, and focus more in school as he embarked on a new era in his life - high school. While in Maui, Trey tried lychee and a new banana variety that a surfer handed him on the beach, drank coconut water and ate fresh made organic pepperoni on his pizza (which is admittedly pretty gross looking because it is gray in color but tastes great!) But most importantly, no more fast food. He has since agreed that some of the immune booster tinctures I gave him actually work, and that eating slower and chewing his food does help him feel better and fills him up. Two points for me!
As your kids head into a new school year and schedules get more hectic than ever, it can be hard to keep nutrition top of mind and make it a priority. But with a few tips and tricks, your kids can be on the path to healthier eating habits:
Myth #1 - Juice is better for you than soda
Juice and soda are actually both very high in sugar and typically include 6-8 teaspoons of sugar per cup! Juice is high in vitamin C and other important nutrients but there are healthier ways to make sure your child is getting these.
Instead, try to give your kids water that has been infused with real fruit to give it flavor or a ½ cup of fruit juice topped off with water or sparkling water to give it a soda taste.
1. Always provide fresh fruit options. By giving your kids fresh fruit you are also ensuring they get the fiber and all nutrients in the fruit instead of only the sugar.
2. Make water the #1 beverage they drink
3. Limit 100% juice to 4 oz. per day
4. Dilute 100% juice with water
Myth #2 - Giving my child non-fat food is healthy
Children need fat. It nourishes their bodies and helps develop the brain and protects organs. It also helps them feel satisfied after a meal. This is especially important with the appetite of growing, active children. If your child doesn’t feel full after a meal, they may consume more than necessary, leading to over-eating. Or, they may choose other foods low in nutritional value to fill up. You can avoid this by giving them good fats like, nuts, seeds, lean meats and cooking with olive oil.
Try this yummy smoothie recipe for a filling, healthy fat option.
1/2 cup organic vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup organic milk or a non dairy substitute like almond milk
1/2 banana (can be frozen)
1/2 tablespoon honey (good for immunity boosting properties and good source of natural sugar)
1 tablespoon almond butter
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until combined and frothy. Serve immediately.
Myth #3 - My child eats a big lunch and dinner so it’s okay if they skip breakfast
Your child needs three meals per day that are a mix of protein and complex carbohydrates. Healthy snacks in between is a good idea as well. This keeps the blood sugar stable and the metabolism running. If your child plays sports, you definitely want to make sure they eat snacks as well as three meals a day. If they skip breakfast, they will not have the stamina and energy for a game late in the day or the mental capacity to complete homework assignments and projects. I know the mornings get busy and hectic but there are some quick fixes to provide a healthy breakfast option every day.
Here are a few store bought snacks your kids will actually eat and they are healthy:
Sprout Rise Morning Smoothies - These are prepackaged in BPA free containers with all the healthy ingredients your kids need. You can even buy them online and get them delivered to your house to make it even easier.
Annie’s Granola Bars - These granola bars come in a variety of flavors and even gluten free options. This is a great breakfast or snack during the day. And when you buy any Annie’s product you are supporting global sustainable farming and a company that gives back in meaningful ways, as well as educating kids on healthy eating practices.
18 Rabbits Jr. - This is a new company to me that produces a delicious line of granola bars and cereals. The company sells on Amazon but it is a bit harder to find in the store. I found them in Oregon on my last visit. The great thing about this company is that their food is 100% organic and has easy to read labels so you know exactly what you are getting.
Keep in mind that while your kids may not listen to you on everything – or most things – they do observe your lifestyle habits and tend to mimic them. If you’re eating the right things and teaching them why, they’ll be much more inclined to reach for fruit or other healthy options when you’re not around. This truly sets the stage for eating habits now and later in their life.