It was the fall of 1978 when my 14-year-old friend and I decided to join America’s newfound fitness craze. We devised a plan during sixth period lunch: we would bike clear across town without stopping. Here was the problem: fast-food restaurants galore along the way. My memory tells me we stopped at McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and a hot dog joint before landing at the Caldor parking lot. After 12 miles, a large order of fries, two Bavarian cream donuts, and an over-stuffed chili dog, we gave each other a high five to celebrate our accomplishment. I get indigestion just thinking about it!
For decades, teens have been devouring fast food and salty snacks as part of their daily diets. Let’s be honest: how many 14-year-olds do you know who opt for carrot sticks over a handful of salty fries? Is it hopeless, or can parents suggest healthy options that their teens will actually enjoy?
Dr. Howard M. Shapiro, a Manhattan-based weight loss specialist and best-selling author of the “Picture Perfect Weight Loss” series, urges teens to avoid certain foods.
“Limit foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans-fat, such as fatty meats, egg yolks, and foods prepared with hydrogenated oils and shortenings.”
Shapiro suggests that teens include some “good fat” in their diets: olives, avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive or canola oil. Soy foods help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
“Include a couple of servings a day of any of the following: tofu, soy milk, or soy yogurt,” he says. Also, soy protein powder can be added to shakes or smoothies — an added health benefit for these popular teen drinks. Teens might also try veggie or turkey burgers and veggie sausages.
Healthy eating habits include healthy eating schedules. Lauren Graf, a nutritionist for the Department of Pediatric Nephrology and the Pediatric Heart Healthy Program at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, advises, “Teenagers should eat multiple, small meals throughout the day and a good breakfast, because it will help them do better on exams.”
Graf also warns about eating heavy meals too close to bedtime, a problem for many teens who are involved in after-school activities. Eating heavy meals late at night can lead to disrupted sleep and an inability to “work off” the calories.
Graf instructs parents to limit the amount of processed foods on hand.
“Stock up on frozen fruits. These won’t go bad, and teens can use them as toppings on frozen yogurt. Parents should model healthy eating. Believe it or not, this will eventually click with your teenagers.”
• Prepare healthy casseroles on weekends and freeze for later in the week.
• Pack a snack to avoid fast-food stops.
• Opt for fresh over packaged and canned.
The food has to look and taste good, or your teen won’t eat it. Since many teens are constantly on the run, healthy snacks play an important role, and easy preparation is a must.
Healthy snack alternatives suggested by Dr. Shapiro:
• Soy chips with guacamole or hummus — instead of potato chips and sour cream dip.
• Whole-grain crackers and peanut butter — instead of a bagel with cream cheese.
• Roasted pumpkin seeds — instead of a bag of milk chocolate pretzels.
Graf says teens will be pleased to hear, “Dark chocolate is actually good for the heart. It provides antioxidants and doesn’t have the levels of sugar and fat found in milk or white chocolate.”
Graf also suggests slathering hummus or mustard on sandwiches in lieu of mayonnaise.
“I only keep healthy snacks at home. My daughter learned to like celery and peanut butter. She’ll also sprinkle cinnamon on apple slices.”
Susan Cerulli, school nurse at Haviland Middle School, Hyde Park, NY
“Heart-healthy breakfast sandwiches: egg whites, mushrooms, and low-fat cheese on wheat bread. Use olive oil cooking spray for frying.”
Maria Hoskins, Hyde Park, NY
Upcoming topic: Tips for making the most of that first job at a fast-food restaurant or grocery store.
Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer, columnist and author of, “Lions and Tigers and Teens: Expert advice and support for the conscientious parent just like you” (Unlimited Publishing LLC, 2012), available at Amazon.com. For details, visit www.myrnahaskell.com.
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