Good nutrition is important during adolescence, when children's minds and bodies need the right fuel to sustain growth and support them through energy-draining days. Yet so many detour onto the fast-food track during these formative years, leaving the basic food groups far behind. Many parents, tired of turning every meal into a food fight, surrender. "I know I should be cooking nutritional foods for my kids, but they never seem to like what I put on the table," confessed one mother. "Often I resort to take-out. Last week our trash was filled with pizza boxes. Now I'm on a guilt trip."
While fast food seems a quick fix, in the long run it sets a youngster up for a lifetime of disordered eating. "If a child doesn't develop a palate early on, he will never be able to recognize good foods later in life," said Rossella Speranza, director of the Italian branch of Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust. Oldways is a nonprofit educational organization based in Cambridge, Mass., whose primary objective is to promote healthy eating.
While adolescents have earned their status as poor eaters, these years are an optimal time to stress nutrition. Young people care about their appearance. They are preoccupied with how tall they will be. Many hit growth spurts from ages 10 through 15, adding three to five inches to their height. Many are into sports and working out. Once they understand that there is a connection between looking good, performing well and eating right, they will be less resistant to change bad habits.