Better Off Well
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INSIGHTS

5 Tips to Get Teens in the Kitchen

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Yesterday I got to work with a sweet 13-year old boy. Most of my little clients so far have been, well, little. But this was a middle-schooler, and as a former 6th grade teacher, I know that young teens are not always so receptive to what grown-ups have to tell them. So I was a little nervous. No need to be.

W turned out to be super polite and was eager to help out with our edible creations. While he described the stir-fry that was his specialty, W chopped away at a bell pepper like he'd recently stepped out of culinary school.

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He loved using the tool his mother pulled out to chop the parsley, too. Teens like to be able to work with tools.

Together, we made an orange-banana smoothie, not-tuna salad, garlic and sesame mochi, and chocolate quinoa brownies.

I started the session by talking a little with W. I showed him my website and explained my own health history. We talked a little about how the body works, so W would have a better understanding of why it was important to eat like a superhero- not just because food was "good" or "bad" for you. What does that mean, really?

W is an athlete. If he eats like a superhero most of the time, this is going to help his performance. If he eats like a superhero while other players on the team don't, this will give him an extra advantage. Of course, my hope is that all his friends become inspired and start to eat like superheros themselves!

So how can you get a teen to change habits?

1) Don't expect it to happen over night. Taste buds take time to change. For a teen who is used to sugary and salty foods, switching over to a complete whole foods diet overnight won't happen. Make a list of all the whole foods your teen WILL eat, and post that somewhere so you can check back easily before each trip to the farm or food store. Always have those foods available.

2) Talk about food. Not the nag kind of talk, but more conversational. When you're in the kitchen together: "You're never gonna believe what I learned about how much sugar is in soda!" At the diner for breakfast: "Wow, did you ever notice the ingredients on this little pack of Smucker's jelly?" After a sports event: "Did you see how tired __________ looked this morning? I wonder what he had for breakfast." Expect eyerolls. They're still listening.

3) Do experiments together. Visuals are powerful. Fill an empty yogurt container with the amount of sugar indicated on the label. Do the same with a soda bottle. Multiple brands of soda bottles! Compare the decomposition of real food to processed food. Take photos and post on Facebook, use as a science project for school, or if you and your kids are really ambitious, start a blog! :)

*Remember: 4 g = 1 tsp; 3 tsp = 1 tbs

4) Brainstorm together. First, empathize how you understand that processed food tastes good and that it's hard to avoid. Come up with a list of products that you can all agree on as okay to eat and keep in the house. Choose days of the week when it's okay to have these, or perhaps keep those items only for an afternoon snack.

5) Have fun! Get your kids involved in helping out by giving them responsibilities in the kitchen. Allow your teen one night of each week to make the family meal. Provide him with cookbooks or websites. Film your teens in the kitchen and send it to family or post on YouTube. Have an Iron Chef competition of your own, where each family member gets a night to prepare a meal using only the ingredients found in the kitchen, then vote for the best!

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Here was W having a fun time tossing the bags of Cheetos we found in the pantry.

Of course, having a health coach come in and talk with your child about the advantages of whole foods and how our bodies work is a real benefit, too. If your child is like mine, he's always more receptive to what another grown-up has to say than to what I tell him.

If you live in the Boston or Rhode Island area, contact me about setting up a Nutrition Nanny appointment today! Donna@BetterOffWell.com

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