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As fascinating as they are to work with and even just be around, teens remain, in my mind, an enigma.
It is simply it’s own reward to witness bright, young kids dive into the hormonal soup of puberty and find some way to flounder or swim across, forging unique identities and one day emerging as independent, young adults.
One of the areas in the life of a teen that draws my attention the most is nutrition.
Sleep, priority setting, reward-versus-risk behavior and self image are among others, but these can be addressed in future discussions.
This is a time in human development when the increased rate of growth is second only to the very first year of life. Yet, from the standpoint of nutrition it is treated like that mangy, stray cat with cloudy eyes - neglected to the point of maltreatment.
Most middle and high school kids I know do not eat breakfast. Many skimp on lunch and then binge on whatever is in sight when they get home.
What there is to binge on at home is often the high-in-saturated fat, high sodium, processed snack food that is easy to tear open or nuke.
This is clearly not a healthy way to go about fueling a growing and changing body; I know it, parents know it and on some level I think the teens know it, too.
I think we need to make the point that hunger and inadequate food availability is often seen in adolescents from families with lower income, but this is not really the case in Los Alamos, is it? I’ve seen quite a few families in which every member has his own laptop and iPhone, yet never is there a breakfast made, nor a lunch packed.
We can condition our bodies to not feel hunger in the morning. Many people truly have no appetite for breakfast. However, after a few days we can also recondition our bodies to want to eat before heading out.
If we take in a protein and complex carbohydrate for breakfast, this can improve our sense of energy and help with focus and concentration in mental tasks, like, for example, say....school (food for thought, so to speak).
One way to approach improving on the breakfast issue is to break free from the mode of limiting what typical breakfast food looks like. Many people worldwide have soup for breakfast.
Heating up last night’s stew or chili would be perfectly fine. A rolled up slice of turkey breast, piece of toast and cheese stick can be eaten as you walk out the door.
A weekend batch of hard boiled eggs can be quickly sampled from each morning and eaten with a yogurt or glass of low fat milk. Add a banana and you’re really rocking!
Peanut butter on a whole wheat bagel is also excellent.
One U.S. study pointed out some real deficiencies when looking at the mean number of servings per day that kids aged 2-19 took in compared to minimum recommendations.
Only 30 percent of youths met the minimum serving requirements for fruits, meats, grains and dairy. 36 percent met the minimum for vegetables. 16 percent did not meet any of the requirements and a whopping 1 percent met all.
Parents have a major influence by providing a variety of nutritious foods, getting the kids involved with meal planning and by making the family mealtime a high priority.
I realize that family mealtime is a challenge with sports, homework and other activities, but know that it also has a positive association with the intake of vegetables, fruits, grains, calcium and iron rich foods and a decrease in soft drink consumption.
In these articles I often seem to come back to the parents as role models, but remember: the best predictor of a child with a healthy weight and lifestyle is parents who have healthy weights, make smart food choices and who exercise regularly.
So, what’s for breakfast?
Tom Csanadi, MD