Updated: Sep 17, 2021
Does your teen daughter wake up not hungry, or not knowing what she wants to eat? Does she just not have the brainpower to walk into the kitchen and decide?
Does she resist all your great ideas for healthy meals?
Several factors seem to be at play. The rapid growth and hormone fluctuations cause real fatigue and brain drain for many kids, and their changing personalities don't want to take ideas from others (if they ever did). They want something interesting, that hits the spot, but they may not have the words to explain what they want. Adults have 20 years more practice figuring out what sounds good, and more time in the kitchen to bridge
the gap between desire and reality.
Here are some of the ideas we've formulated after navigating teen appetite with a couple of kids, and talking to many, many moms about their kids likes and dislikes:
1) Splurge on fruit and easy protein. The more fruit we have, the less sugar my kids want. If there's something the kid likes that's convenient, contains protein, and is more or less real food, stock it. For us this is salami, pulled pork, high-quality deli meats, roast chickens, hummus, nuts.
2) Start with sweet hydration. In the morning, kids can have low blood sugar ironically contributing to their apathy about food. Offering tea with honey or sugar (yes, I know) and cream can help them get moving. Water with lemon and mint, or a plate of fruit, can also offer enough appeal to get a groggy kid going.
3) Give them time to cook. The inefficiency of it can bother me when the teens have homework and chores to do, and I could cook the same thing in a fraction of the time, or they could just eat an apple and peanut butter and move on. But cooking becomes faster through practice, and I try to think of teenagers cooking slowly as an investment in their future success as adults. Not to mention it beats many other things they might do with their time.
4) Homemade junk food is better than packaged foods. Think of how long the ingredient list is for the two kinds of chocolate chip cookies - toll house or homemade. Nobody needs all those extra ingredients. And homemade cookies taste better, which keeps the bar higher so they will be less interested in bakery sweets, which I consider a big help for adult life. Having the hurdle of 20 minutes between kids and cookies is a great test of initiative.
5) Let go of Perfection. Active teens need a lot of food. While the adults in the house may go Whole 30 or paleo or low carb, it's unlikely the teen needs to be as strict, EVEN if she has PCOS or a clear metabolic problem. Researchers have started weight loss in teens by simply cutting out soda or sugar, with no other dietary adjustments. 80/20 is good enough for most people most of the time
6) Food is nourishment, community, and fun. Healthy adults generally enjoy real food more than processed foods, and teens are starting to find out what their own favorites will be. Since we have the modern luxury of so many choices, this can be fun and a chance to celebrate variety together. Of course many meals will be simple and routine, but it's wonderful to celebrate weekends, holidays and birthdays with special foods.
Finding nutritious foods that appeal to picky, fast-growing kids is much easier with a mix of homemade and prepared foods to appeal to their palates and help them find their own favorites. Happy experimenting!