As they exit childhood, tweens often start to assert their
independence. Sometimes, what they want doesn’t align with what their bodies need. A philosophy of “Do as I say and not as I do” will have little to no effect on them. The best thing parents can do is to lead by example, which also provides an opportunity to improve our own diets.
Growth spurts are just around the corner, so ensure that your tween is getting enough calcium. Calcium-rich foods include sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses, raw almonds, and dark leafy greens. In terms of dairy, I prefer plain natural yogurt or kefir; they are easier to digest than milk. Calcium-enriched soy milk can also be found in supermarkets that carry foreign brands.
The sweetness and fizziness of soft drinks is an irresistible combination to many kids. However, soda pop is high in sugar and has zero nutritional value. The drink’s acidity actually leaches calcium, damaging teeth and bones. This is especially harmful to growing children; opt for freshly-squeezed juices instead. If kids are really hooked on pop, buy carbonated water and add your own fruit juice. Try adding cranberry, peach, or grape juice and buy sugar-free juice whenever possible.
Children enjoy intense flavors, salty and sweet being at the top of the list. I’m a big believer in moderation; kids shouldn’t be forbidden from eating junk food, but there should be a limit. Junk food can be restricted to weekends, when watching a movie, or attending a birthday party. That being said, too much can lead to nutritional deficiencies; it’s best to avoid having junk food at home.
Each person’s body reacts differently to different foods. If your tween has behavioral issues like ADD or health concerns like acne, pay close attention to their diets. For example, acne has been linked to dairy sensitivities. Children with ADD or ADHD are often sensitive to food additives, artificial colors, and artificial flavors. Note how your child’s behavior or condition is affected by what they eat. Try eliminating the suspected offending food for six weeks and see what happens.
With all this talk about modeling healthy eating, it’s essential to go back to where it all begins: the kitchen. If you’ve never cooked with your kids, the tween years are the perfect time to begin. While your child is still a willing partner, invite them to whip up a meal together. Don’t worry if you’re not a great cook; just dust off that old cookbook and give it a try. Cooking is a great way to bond with your child and work on communication skills.
Got a question? Melissa Rodriguez is a mom of two and a wellness consultant. She also works as a naturopath at International Medical Center. Check out her website.
photo by Woodley Wonderworks from Wikimedia Commons
This article originally appeared on p26 of the beijingkids August 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com