Can teen and adult eating habits co-exist in harmony? Yes, say experts
Sugary cereals, white bread and artificially flavored fruit snacks have been left behind in the kiddie-sized shopping cart, as today's teens are now asking for organic, whole grain and locally grown foods to become essentials in the family kitchen.
The focus is no longer on the trendy cartoon characters who advertised products with hidden toys and colorful packaging. Instead, the appeal is in more green vegetables and high-fiber breads and pasta -- foods that once seemed unappealing to the kids humming candy bar jingles and spitting out brussels sprouts at the dinner table.
Those kids have grown into teens and college students who expect family members to follow suit in the quest to maintain a healthy lifestyle, even if it means spending a little more cash and altering traditional recipes.
And if parents decide not to take a you'll-eat-what-I-make-you mentality, this can complicate meal planning and sometimes cause conflict.
Grocery shopping can be both costly and time-consuming when trying to satisfy the nutritional needs and preferences of each family member, said Jodie Fitzgerald of the Price Chopper Kids Cooking Club. Parents can't always prepare a separate meal each time they hear, "If that's what's for dinner, I'm not eating."
As a mother of three, Fitzgerald believes in keeping the lines of communication open when it comes to mealtime, snacktime and grocery shopping.
"There has to be a give and take on both sides," Fitzgerald said. "Parents can work to incorporate their children's needs, and children might find it helpful to engage themselves in the shopping process."
Teens who try to make healthy lifestyle changes by cutting down on carbohydrates or experimenting with vegetarianism also find themselves at a disadvantage if the household food supply is not as health conscious.
Carter suggests teens research healthy options and encourage the family to make small alterations to everyday meals. Easy substitutions can make a big difference, like switching from white to brown rice or using less butter and oil in vegetable dishes.
"(Teens can) focus on what (they) would like to introduce," Carter said. "Any diet is more successful when you include the things you want to eat, not just what you want to cut out."
Alison Held, a nutritionist from Healthful Direction in Westport, said parents should ask their child what to stock up on before they return. "If you know your child will be home for the summer, buy certain items in bulk that you know they'll want to have around the house," Held said.
To cut costs, Held said it helps to shop around at a variety of grocery stores before buying. Store brands tend to be more affordable, and speciality shops can have different deals than typical supermarkets.
Filling the refrigerator with pre-sliced fruits and vegetables can reduce unhealthy snacking out of boredom. This way, teens have an accessible healthy option.
"Try prepping the food beforehand; involve your kids in the process," Fitzgerald said. Homemade hummus and trail mix are easy, inexpensive snack recipes to keep around the kitchen.
And if parents aren't willing to comply with these healthy eating requests, teens might just have to start doing a bit of solo shopping. Held would say to teens: "Start picking up little things on your own, and provide yourself with alternative compromise during the main meal."
The options for healthy eating while at home for the summer boil down to three simple solutions: communication, suggestions and substitution.
Communication between parents and their children about planning a weekly menu or grocery list, research on the part of teens so they can suggest ideas for nutritious meals, and substituting traditionally unhealthy items with fresh, organic or whole grain products.
"It's important that everybody starts thinking about nutrition in these ways," Carter said. "The teenage influence is a great way to get parents involved in it as well."
Taylor Rao is an intern at the Times Union; traotimesunion.com