Getting teens to eat real food is possible!
If you have kids, getting teens to eat real food is probably on your radar, or it should be, even if they're still young. And I hope you'll ask your teenager to read this because today's post will help you and them!
We all want our kids to make good food choices, and if just “good health” isn't a strong motivator (I doubt that would do it for most teens), then there are two HUGE factors that likely will win them over…
Two big reasons why real food matters:
1. Eating fast food or processed factory-made “food” full of toxins (like vegetable oils, GMOs, preservatives and pesticides), and not eating enough healthy fats, organic/naturally grown produce, or safe pastured meats plays a huge part in the following issues. Few of our parents or grandparents had to deal with these problems, but sadly they are common among teens and young adults nowadays…
- Acne. For the majority of teens, they'll have only minor issues with acne or none at all when eating well. (If they DO still have acne, then natural remedies such as these can help instead of the pharmaceutical drugs that doctors put them on in a flash –> their list of side effects is long and scary! Also, now that I've learned more about homeopathy, I turn there for help because it's SO effective. Read about which homeopathic remedies Joette recommends for acne. And in the meantime, try these facial cleansing grains.)
- Anxiety and depression, or even just mood swings. It's so sad how many are struggling with this, and then what do their doctors do? They usually only use one option: to put them on a drug and you guessed it — there are scary side effects again. But there are MUCH better options, scroll through them all here. Or here's a post specifically for helping teens with anxiety and depression.
- Overweight/out of shape. This one is a no-brainer. We all know that eating junk like soda pop, fast food and Doritoes will have consequences. But there are VERY tasty alternatives made with better ingredients out there! Try Pinterest, or just ask me if you're wondering how to make a better version of something you love. Also, quality foods bring about better athletic performance, and for young men especially, eating the right kinds of protein will increase strength and muscle definition too. (Read more here about helping overweight kids.)
- Painful or heavy periods. Guys, you can look away on this one, but gals, listen up… Please don't let your doctor tell you that going on the birth control pill is a good idea!!! Yes it may fix a problem in the very short term, but your resulting life-long health issues are not worth it! And again, there are BETTER OPTIONS THAT WORK — there are homeopathy remedies for heavy periods, and this remedy works for almost everyone with painful periods! (For more on this topic, check out this course from Joette.)
- Trouble concentrating or sleeping, allergies, stomachaches, migraines, and other miscellaneous ailments. Real food is brain food. The right fuel for your body builds up your immune system and helps you feel good all over! And again, homeopathy or other natural remedies can resolve any of your health issues safely.
2. Second, traditional foods (like butter, cream, or sourdough bread) not only nourish our bodies, they also taste so good. It's super simple to give any dish a real food upgrade just by using better ingredients — that way you can have everyone's favorites and the only difference will be that it tastes better! (Sign up for my newsletter here and you'll get a free grocery cheat sheet so you know what to buy.)
Let's hear what a teenager thinks about all of this, here's Lucy, my friend's daughter who offered to share her thoughts with us:
Temptation is one of the hardest things to resist.
You know you should tell yourself no, but you’re always able to think of excuses to tell yourself yes. As a WAPF kid I always knew what was okay for me to eat and what was not. My diet was extremely controlled (thanks Mom) until I started fourth grade at a new school and came in contact with public enemy number one: the vending machine.
I had never had such easy access to junk food before, and it was impossible to control myself.
This is just one example of the difficulties we face today in trying to eat well. A couple generations ago, candy was a treat (and dinosaurs roamed the earth). You would ask your parent for money to go to a drugstore or a candy store. Being born in the 21st century, I can’t even imagine that. Those treats are now part of the everyday diet of many kids, teens, and adults. On any given day, almost all of my friends have lunches or snacks consisting mostly of cookies, protein bars, chips, soda, pizza, and much more. Part of this problem is that our fast-moving society, nobody finds time to make home-cooked meals. Even for a WAPF family that knows how to eat, it’s so much easier to grab something off the shelves.
Nowadays there is candy and junk food screaming at you from every corner of every grocery store, hardware store, you name it!
And with the freedom everyone has today, it’s impossible not to come in contact with these places and their food. Junk food companies engineer their products to be irresistible looking. Even the wrappers are bright and inviting for the consumer. Despite knowing how dangerous it is, when something that tempting is right in front of you, it’s very hard not to cave, especially for younger kids and teens.
However, the temptation from the product itself isn’t even all of it.
Bad food has now become a critical part of many social settings. Candy, cookies, pizza, soda. I can’t remember the last time I went to a party that didn’t have many choices of food to harm your body. Even the occasional vegetable platter is most likely pesticide laden. It is very hard because if you are a healthy eater, there sometimes really aren’t any choices for you at these events. You might be able to handle this, but not having any other options for food gives you a great excuse to overindulge. I have often even felt pressured into eating bad food by my peers, because if you sit there with an empty plate while everyone else is eating, you feel uncool or silly. A popular hangout place for teens is Starbucks, where sugared pastries and foamy drinks are out on full display, taunting you. I cannot stress enough how difficult this is to resist, especially if you’re the kid sitting there meekly with the unsweetened herbal tea, feeling like a loser. It really is a problem how junk food is shoved in our faces, offered at every twist and turn.
One thing I have found that is incredibly helpful is finding substitutes.
If you look enough, you can find companies that make your favorite foods with good ingredients. Experiment with some quick recipes to make drinks, even make some scones or muffins. I’ve been able to formulate a ten-minute recipe and make an exact replica of a favorite Starbucks drink using totally clean ingredients, and I can enjoy it more because I know it won’t destroy my body. This doesn’t completely solve the problem, but if you can enjoy those treats, it makes it much easier to resist the other ones.
Isn't she awesome? She's so real and honest, and gives a good picture of the life of a teen who wants to eat better but sees firsthand why following a real food diet isn't always easy.
Solutions for teens (or for getting teens to eat real food and get them on board):
- Work on learning to cook yourself. Here's a fun class that can help (geared more toward school-aged kids, but many teens have benefited as well and the skills at the advanced level are exactly what a teenager should be learning if you haven’t had a ton of kitchen experience before), because cooking food at home is a pretty important step to make that will have the biggest impact on your lifelong good health!
- Here are some favorite “normal” meals that everyone loves and we have them often around here — they're tasty and nourishing: homemade chicken strips, homemade pizza (here's a quick mini-pizza version), popcorn, ice cream, burrito casserole, real food nachos — there are tons more, just look through here.
- Nowadays there are plenty of not AS bad “organic junk foods” available at the store that taste good. These can be for times when you just want to fit in a little more if you and your friends are hanging out. (I tell my kids that they're fine for once in a while because they're not full of nasty ingredients BUT they're also not nourishing either.)
- Sometimes we all need or want to eat out. Thankfully now there are some fairly okay options like Panera or Chipotle — and maybe even more places near you? They're not perfect, obviously, but they're at least better than most fast-food places.
- Again, it's super simple to give any dish a real food upgrade just by using better ingredients — that way you can have everyone's favorites and the only difference will be that it tastes better! (Sign up for my newsletter here and you'll get a free grocery cheat sheet so you know what to buy.)
- If you know you don't eat perfect (who does?), try to at least add in some extra healthy foods/habits into your life. Whether it's raw milk or delicious superfood smoothies in the morning, daily probiotics and liver pills, hard-boiled pastured eggs for quick snacks, plenty of pastured butter on sourdough, watching movies with organic popcorn popped in healthy coconut oil, or whatever it may be that works for you. 🙂
- Experiment with growing your own food or go to the farmer's market and see what looks good to you!
- Add your suggestions in the comments!
Now I'll share some random thoughts about getting teens to eat real food that may be helpful for you to peruse.
These comments are from a few of my friends, Facebook followers, and also some WAPF chapter leaders who I chat with in a forum now and then…
- Reading that some top athletes don’t eat garbage or ever eat fast food has got my son's attention. He is realizing that when he eats junk he gets stomachaches and is more tired when he works out.
- Kids frequently are not getting enough quality fats in today's fat-phobic society, which results in kids craving carbohydrates, especially sugar and starch, which makes them overweight and unhealthy. Girls especially need liberal amounts of good fats in their diet as they aid in hormone development and prevent hunger between meals.
- Organic coconut butter is an extremely healthy fat due to its lauric acid content, which has anti-microbial and anti-viral properties. Olive oil and butter are also good choices. Fatty fish is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, vital for healthy brain function, sight, and a healthy cardiovascular system. Fats to avoid are all plant oils except for coconut, olive and flax, all trans-fats, and grain-fed animal fats. Bone broths are fabulously nourishing and are the base for great cooking, and organic liver and other organ meats, if fed from a very young age, may be accepted more readily throughout life. Where girls need more quality fats, boys need more quality protein as they get older for good muscle development. Look for grass-fed rather than grain-fed flesh foods for better health.
- You just have to keep the faith, say “yes” whenever possible. And try to keep from getting into a power struggle. The drive for independence is built into them. They need to practice their independence… You have to let them go…
- This comment was from Sally Fallon Morell, president of the WAPF: When I was a student in France, I discovered that wonderful food called pate! I could not eat enough of it–my body was just craving the vitamin A in the liver. When our kids were teenagers, we had a rule that they had to eat 6 evening meals out of 7 at home. I never asked questions about what they did afterwards–we were strict about food, about helping around the house, and about doing homework, but not strict about everything else. And of course they always got a good breakfast. I made their lunches but am not sure they always got eaten. In any event, whatever junk they were eating was with the background of good food.”
- My daughter is 13. On top of all the junk food available, there's also an abundance of junk thinking. Even though I've talked with her about WAPF principles for years, she still spouts the same old nonsense. I think she gets it from friends, the internet, even teachers. Even though she's healthy and trim, she compares herself with the ballet dancers at her school (who are “perfect”), and decides she needs to eat nothing but fruits and vegetables to slim down. What?? Last night she told me that it's dirt on one's face that causes acne. Even though she herself found that when she avoids grains she has less acne. I try to be the “guide on the side” suggesting things and pointing out connections, because I know if I mandate anything, she'll rebel against it.
- My son is 13 and really influenced by processed foods lately. He’s feeling like the ‘odd one’ with his lunch and snacks and lately been buying gold fish and gummy bears to fit in. Pains me! I can see a change in his moods and really trying to educate him on food choices (sugar!) and how it relates to his mood swings.
- When my children were teens we were eating a WAPF influenced diet, but not as good as I would have liked. They were homeschooled, so that made it easier for sure, but the boys were in a drama group to which they sometimes had to bring their lunches. Their friends reacted more positively than you might expect and would often beg for a sip of the raw milk or a few of the crispy almonds… To this day, though they are all adults now, they sometimes remind me of how much they liked the food my boys would bring even though most of them ate fairly junky stuff.
- I also remember talking to my boys about their muscles because I was surprised at their muscle definition even though they did not work out regularly or play sports. They were computer jocks! They would chuckle and tell me that it was the food we ate. They were convinced that the other guys were more doughy because they didn't eat enough real food raised the way it was meant to be raised. I don't know if my sons were correct about the reason for their muscles, but they never got any soy other than soy sauce on occasion and got to eat Colorado pasture-raised beef and lamb every week. And homemade soup all of the time. As teens they could see that their peers weren't that healthy so they weren't too resistant to what I prepared. I also made sure our food tasted good!
- Weston A. Price did a study in a local school where one super nutritious meal was served to the children at lunchtime: cod liver oil & high vitamin butter, soup or stew, sourdough bread with butter, 2 glasses of milk, stewed fruit or tomatoes. Even thought the children continued to eat absolute junk at home (coffee, sugar, white bread, jam), their behavior and academic performance at school improved noticeably. So Sally's advice to provide only good food at home without trying to monitor everything they are exposed to elsewhere is good advice. You don't want to battle constantly about food! This only becomes difficult when a child is allergic or sensitive to many foods, but hopefully the child will quickly understand where the adverse consequences come from and will voluntarily comply. This is life! Often messy, but over time the truth will become apparent to our children if we can figure out how to back off and when to stand firm. We're all on a learning curve.
- I'll never forget the day my 18 year old son walked in the house and said (with heavy sarcasm), “Thanks, Mom! You ruined McDonald's for me.”
- I feel like social acceptance seems to necessitate eating “normal” foods and using “normal” cosmetics. My daughter also has to endure her friends speaking with “authority” on topics of how important vaccines are, how dangerous raw milk is, and so much more. Teens are not mature enough to agree to disagree they are very black and white and that makes it difficult.
- Our kids aren’t even in a school setting and yet feel the pressure. I am so tired of hearing, “Why can’t we just eat normal food!” But we press on, knowing that one day they will thank us for it, as all of our older children now do. Hang in there, the reward may seem so slow to come, but it eventually does! By the way, I don’t see much value in much of anything “normal” anyway. Social conformity is often dangerous! And as Joel Salatin says, “Normal is sick and tired.”
- Keep communication open, don't make everything a struggle between you and your teen, this way hopefully they'll come to you for help and advice when they're on their own.
- One thing that hits home with my 17 year old daughter is how real food helped her body grow, keeps it strong and helps her get over illnesses faster. She is very athletic and maintaining her body for sports is important to her. This does NOT mean she is great in her eating, but she is aware and quite a few times will pass up something she shouldn't eat for something better for her.
- My athletic kids are appalled by what some of their teammates eat pre/post game. Personally when we made the switch to a healthy real food diet, there were growing pains but eventually my teen realized how much better she was feeling and the reactions to the poor quality food just wasn't worth it.
- Sharing the why behind the healthier choices is also important, not just that it's bad for you. For example that sugar causes inflammation which weakens the immune system. This opens you up for many illnesses and diseases. When you give facts it definitely helps. We've been eating healthy and detoxing our health and beauty for over 2 years now and wish we had started sooner.
- I have two children, 22 & 25. It's been quite a journey watching them “wake up” to our food system much the same way I did nearly 20 years ago, despite being raised during their teen years with real food. Rebellion in food is very similar to any kind of teenage rebellion. They don't want to believe what we tell them. They often need to come to the conclusion on their own. Both my children have food sensitivities and yet both were very much in denial for years – like their mother!
- In general, I'm not a nag, but I will point out things as I see them, without expectation. I spent years doing that. We're now at the point that my kids are a little preachy to their friends about food, haha. They see their friends that are in their 20's with acne and stomach issues and eczema (and sadly, infertility). They know what that's about and they share it lovingly. It was a long time coming but I'm pretty sure my grandchildren will be raised with a Weston A. Price Foundation philosophy and that will ultimately change their health for the better.
Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments:
When it comes to getting teens to eat real food, how do YOU help your kids?
If you're a teen, what have you found works well for you?!
- Check out my book: Real Food for Rookies. 🙂
- More of my tips: Wish Your Kids Would Stop Complaining? Getting Your Kids to Eat Healthy Foods
- How to Destroy ANY Chance of Enjoying Your Kids in the Kitchen
- Helping teens with anxiety or depression
- How to keep kids safe online without going crazy!
- Hear from another teen sharing about eating real food