This weekend heralds the end of the first school term and beginning of the festive holiday season for young people who are now on vacation.
Our culture of celebration largely centres around food. Our culinary traditions should be enjoyed and passed down through generations to come, as these make up the very fabric of our identity. That said, it is important to recognize that health during the adult years is heavily influenced by teen choices and behaviour.
While we encourage young people to assist in the preparation, sharing and enjoyment of the many spoils of the season, it is critical to remind them, that excessive and binge eating can set the stage for harmful patterns of behaviour that are difficult to manage.
Through adolescence, nutritional needs increase dramatically due to the rapid spurts of pubertal growth and development. This leads to an increase in overall nutrition demands which need careful attention. It is not sufficient to simply eat more of anything and everything.
Teens require a balance of nutrients such as iron, calcium, folic acid and protein, which can be found in lean meats, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, fruits and vegetables.
While foods and beverages high in calories, saturated fats, sodium and sugar are abundant and easily accessed, teens should aim to eat those foods only on occasion. During holiday time, parents tend to give extra leeway to indulgence. This should still be controlled.
Excessive caloric intake leads to states of overweight and obesity and the many physical and psychological complications associated therein. Food choices represent the first domain of autonomy during adolescence. Young people are generally allowed to make their own food choices, or even refuse family meals. This should be tempered by parental supervision to ensure that balance is maintained.
Good nutrition for teens starts at home. Parents are urged to lead by example; and those who want their teens to practice better nutrition should make healthy food readily accessible in the home. They should also teach them how to make good choices and prepare simple but healthy meals.
Teenagers naturally tend to “graze” or “snack” during the day. This is particularly prominent during vacation time and especially at night. In order to support best habits during the holiday season, parents are encouraged to have young people play an active role in food preparation and shopping.
When young people are able to cognitively connect the costs of food as well as the time required to prepare meals, their decision making is often positively affected.
The holiday time is often full of opportunities for families to eat together. Youth people derive many benefits from the family meal, where all members sit around a table and share together. Our hectic modern lifestyle often results in families who cannot have meals together every day.
Certainly the effort should be made as much as possible during the coming weeks. The sharing, communication and connection that family meals foster all lead to tangible and intangible benefits to adolescent health. As the season revs into full swing, take this weekend to consider the meal and nutritional plan for your young people and family, and make all efforts to get them involved in the holistic aspects of this part of our celebrations.