I guess the answer depends on which day you ask me.
Teens travel in packs. They can be found hunting and gathering in your kitchen, clearing out any food-like supplies you have of anything commercial, processed, sugar-added or starchy. They are unpredictable. They are both fussy eaters and tasteless eaters, turning down “natural” nut butter because it tastes too much like nuts, then scooping spoonfuls of commercial peanut butter, rolling it in rice crisp cereal and dousing it in pancake syrup, shovelling it into their mouths like they haven’t eaten in a year. At least in my house, that’s how it goes. They love something one day, then snub it the next (just like small children—you didn’t think they’d outgrow that, did you?).
Think of the advertising out there these days aimed at teenagers. TV ads suggest that teens will only eat foods that fit in your hand—slices of pizza, pizza pockets, hot pockets, corn dogs—if you wrap it in pastry, they’re sure to eat it. And single serve convenience foods like granola bars, cereal bars, single-serve kraft dinners, all that crap.
Do you still remember your teenaged years? Of course you do, we all remember it like it was yesterday. I remember feeling like everyone was watching me, all the time, waiting with held breath to laugh, scorn, finger-point and ridicule if I should take one mis-step. I was so painfully aware of every set of eyes on me that I was terrified to do anything silly, outrageous or goofy. I hated those “themed” days at school because they meant dressing up to stand out. Being a teen was hard. No one wants to stand out in those awkward years.
I’ve been very vocal all along that I have teens in my household, and they are not 100% primal. Food can be a battle.
We inform, we lecture, they nod mutely, agree to “try again”, then go and make toast. Now, those of you that do not have teens are reading this, thinking, “woa—rice crispy cereal? Toast? Syrup? Not paleo!” You’re right. Not paleo. Sure, we purged the kitchen way back when. We took the hard line. We tried again and again to force our new diet down their throats. But you know what? Teens are not like 5-year-olds. If its not in your house, they’ll just go buy it at the store or go hang out at other friends houses where they have better junk foods. Don’t say you’ll at least take their money away, because they have grandparents that will give it back. No, we didn’t cave in and go buy a bunch of twinkies because the kids threw tantrums. Its just that, with teens, being absolute is not how any war is won. Its won slow and steady, one battle at a time. There are good days and bad days, successes and failures. Here’s a few of the things we’ve learned along the way:
- Teens are lazy and they are always hungry. If you cut it up, make it pretty, and give them a dip to put it in, they will be more likely to eat it. If it’s in the fridge and it’s in front of the other foods, they may eat it on their way to digging to other foods. Make it easier to get them fed. Keep cut veggies and some fruit right in the front of the fridge, and more likely than not, they will get it eaten (and they might even feed some of it to their friends) Don’t assume that they’re old enough to do it for themselves. Of course they are. But they won’t because they’re too lazy. So if you want them to eat it, cut it up for them.
- Teens are snacky. Don’t bother trying to train them to eat 3 square meals. It’s a battle you won’t win. Plan for snacking. Have beef jerky or pepperoni sticks, deli meats, olives, nuts, cheese. And lure them to our “dark” side with paleo baked treats—wouldn’t you rather they fill up on almond flour cookies than Mr Cristie cookies? Wow them with paleo brownies. Bake the BEST paleo-ish treat you can, and feed it to their friends. See rule #6. Maybe their friends will rave about it, and then they’ll HAVE to admit to liking it, too.
- They’re going to eat junk food anyways, no matter how much “healthy” food you attempt to stuff them with. Other teens eat junk, and they aren’t going to be the freaks that don’t. The teen years are hard enough. Forgive them. This does not mean you have to keep the house stocked with pop and chips, but you have to accept that it will happen. Don’t bother nagging.
- They’re going to make bad food choices. See #3. Even a lactose-intolerant, gluten-intolerant, iron-deficient teen will eat fries with gravy, pizza and puff pastries. And then they’re going to feel sick. And then they will be up all night with a bellyache, or so constipated that they’re in agony, and as soon as the pain and discomfort passes, they will do it again.
- They will challenge you just for the sake of rebelling. My teen will occasionally get her back up and refuse to eat -anything- in our house, even if she normally likes it, just to rebel against it. Teens will deliberately lay in bed starving rather than come down and eat something “healthy” some days. And at 3 am, when you’re fast asleep, they will sneak down and eat the healthy food, and they will like it. But they won’t like that they like it. It’s a little like waiting for Santa Claus. If they think you’re watching, they won’t appear at all.
- They will listen to the voice of friends, friends-of-friends, parents of friends-of-friends and complete strangers before they listen to you. It’s not good enough that I explain to my teen what is going wrong in her stomach. She needs to hear it from her friend’s gluten-intolerant cool mom to believe it. Seriously. It takes a whole community to raise a teen. So I lecture in front of the cool mom, and she nods and agrees because mom’s back each other up. My teen pretends not to care, but I know she’s hearing it.