Healthy Food Conversations With My Teen
My 15-year-old son is coming to stay with me for a week so I’ve been getting prepared to cook him his favourite meals. But I wasn’t quite ready and armed for his response when I asked him what meals he’d like me to cook for him. I was thinking of specific dishes such as pasta, chicken parmigiana or perhaps his request would be for me to bake some choc-chip biscuits. Instead, he said “just healthy meals mum”. “You have lots of healthy recipes and lunch ideas, you choose.”
Flabbergasted, as I thought we’d watch movies while pigging out on chocolate, chips, make toffee popcorn and have all those ‘sometimes foods’ a little bit more than sometimes over the week. He wants me to cook fish, basil pesto pasta, smoked salmon with sweet potato, avocado on toast and muesli for breakfast.
Healthy eating and healthy food habits
Shopping with your kids is a great way to teach them lots of skills. I meal plan, and I planned out the potential menu for his stay, discussing the week before my thoughts and getting his opinion of whether he was okay with the menu. I’m a tad organised, so I’ve also planned the meals for the following three weeks too.
I use an app called Pepperplate. I’ve entered all my recipes into it – both ingredients and instructions. There’s a meal planner, and I save each recipe for a specific day, and then I can add all the ingredients for that recipe into a shopping list. I run through the list while standing in the kitchen and tick off everything I don’t need. Armed with my shopping list sorted into categories – produce, tinned items, dairy, cereals etc. shopping is a breeze. I then head to the shops.
Not only does meal planning help to make sure you have more balance – fish one night, vegetarian another, chicken another and so on. It also teaches you to think in advance about what meals you’re having. I find we eat better this way and you don’t get home from work to find you’ve only got part of the ingredients for a meal. You’re also less likely to head out for takeaway because you can’t be bothered making a last minute dash to the supermarket for those missing ingredients.
A trip to the supermarket
On Easter Saturday we set off to the supermarket. We also had the idea of going to the local shopping centre to inquire about casual work as he is looking for his first after school and weekend job. Not the best idea on both fronts as the centre and the supermarket were chaos with everyone out doing their shopping given the Good Friday closure the day before. Regardless, he did make the food shop easier as he was able to dart off down an aisle to grab one item and save us walking down every aisle.
And if you’re still in the throes of toddler tantrums in the supermarket, remember, they do eventually grow out of it and become strong young teens who can reach for that item that is on a shelf up high that you no longer can reach. Or they have the strength to wield an unruly shopping trolley in the right direction too and help lug the shopping from the car inside too.
It takes skill to food shop. So, in the supermarket, I teach him to look for tomatoes that will be ripe for the day we had them planned. I get him to look at prices and compare the prices of what he picks up. To grab a sweet potato that’s large enough to feed both of us to with smoked salmon for dinner. I help him select the salmon and make select other items on our shopping list – each selecting a few items, heading off then returning for the next items to check off our list.
He also has my sense of order in unstacking the items from the trolley onto the belt for scanning. Asking which items we want to be packed first so he can grab them out. I’m a bit precious about how I load the conveyor belt up and like putting similar foods together to make it easier to pack. It also means when you get home you know the cold items are in the one bag. The bread is together, the toiletries in another bag etc.
My philosophy on cooking
I’m a one bowl cook or try to be. To me, cooking is a necessity. It’s not a pleasurable thing. It’s just something that needs to be done. I’m all for healthy and nutritious meals that taste good and don’t require you to spend oodles of time in the kitchen. I like baking more than cooking and will happily make oat slice, chia slice and muffins. I’m not a cook that thrives on perfection nor intricate cake fiddly decorating of cakes. I’m into simplicity.
Cooking with a teen
The great thing about cooking with a teen is that you don’t have to worry too much about them in the kitchen which is a good thing. In fact, I’ve decided that during my whole week with him I’m going to show him how to cook and give him easy meals to prepare.
He is not new to cooking. At primary school, he was fortunate to attend a school that was part of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. Each week they’d participate in cooking or garden. They would learn to grow foods that they would later use in the kitchen and learn valuable cooking skills. I remember the silverbeet patties he made, the pizza made with fresh herbs, pasta with veggies grown from the garden.
He’d also cook at home and whip up omelettes with flair. Trying new recipes – on the fly and not from a recipe book but just by looking in the pantry and fridge and seeing what would go together.
So this week I have my fridge stocked with a variety of fruit and vegetables. I have a stocked pantry, with basic staples – quinoa, rice, pasta, nuts of all kind – walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, couscous, pepitas and then there is all the baking stuff too.
I’m going to put my feet up and let him loose in my new kitchen. Let him learn by example and see that if you have the base ingredients on hand, it is pretty easy to cook healthy meals each day.
Keep modelling healthy eating
For years I kept soft drinks, fruit juices and junk food away from my little boy. I made sure I bought multigrain rather than white bread, and it’s all sunk in. If you’ve had the “everyone else gets chips in their lunchbox, why can’t I?” and then being told that it wasn’t fair don’t despair. Your kids will surprise you too one day.
I am glad that all those years of trying to show him a healthy way of life hasn’t led him to go astray now he has money and independence to buy those fizzy drinks that I detest. I’m pleased he can see the difference between good and bad foods and that he has helped me shop for this week. It has been wonderful him tagging along while I do my fruit and vegetable shop for the week the last few weeks and that he has skills in the kitchen and keen to develop more.
You’re not an adult if you can’t cook
I remember him saying to me a few weeks ago over a cup of tea and a milkshake – he had the tea and I was drinking the milkshake.
He said, “you shouldn’t get to be 18 and not be able to cook.” And, “if you can’t cook, then you shouldn’t call yourself an adult.”
On that note, good luck. Keep teaching your kids how to make healthy food choices, to cook and make healthy meals and to show them and provide the ingredients to enable them to do so.