Help your son make friends with food
Many of us already know that a healthy diet will optimise your son’s physical growth, development and cognitive function. But we’re constantly bombarded with conflicting information and research about what “healthy” actually means, which makes it hard to work out what we should be eating, let alone what we should be encouraging our kids to eat.
Many parents feel as if they’re constantly feeding their sons, or constantly fighting with them about their food choices. Because food is such a big deal for boys, it’s important not to label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Instead, we need to educate boys so they feel informed when making choices. This will help them build a healthy relationship with food that will last a lifetime.
Here, I debunk a few food myths and give you some tips to help your son make better choices by helping him build a healthy relationship with food.
The food/energy connection
Everything we eat delivers a numerical amount of energy. However, the type of energy is very much dependent on the food source. The body doesn’t process 100 calories of peanuts in the same way it processes 100 calories of peanut butter containing sugar and additional additives. So, the type of energy obtained from these foods is subsequently different.
This analogy may help your son understand this concept. Cars run best on particular sources of petrol. A Porsche performs at its best with premium petrol. The Porsche will still drive with non-premium petrol but at less than optimal performance and the long-term effects on the car can be problematic.
Processed foods and beverages
Teach your son to turn the labels over and take notice of the ingredients list on the back. Explain that the ingredients list is always written in descending quantity order, so if sugar is at the top, the food contains more sugar than any other ingredient. Also point out that the shorter the ingredients list, and the more words he can pronounce, the better the food is likely for him.
Point out that the shorter the ingredients list, and the more words he can pronounce, the better the food is likely for him.
Protein and muscle development
As boys get older, they begin to make the connection between protein and muscle development. The amount of protein required per day depends on your son’s age and weight. The recommended dietary intake and estimated average requirements can be found here.
Protein shakes, bars and supplements are often marketed to teenage boys and young men. However, they are not recommended for children and teenagers unless directed by a health professional. The best forms of protein are found in lean meats, seafood, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Water or sports drinks?
Again, marketing is a key factor in perpetuating the ‘healthy’ myth. Many influential sporting icons promote sports drinks, promising a boost in sporting performance. So they must be healthy, right? Wrong. Most sports drinks contain high levels of sugar, food colourings and flavour additives. And according to a 2012 study, adolescent, inactive males are the highest consumers of sports drinks.
Your son can get adequate nutrients and hydration from eating a balanced diet and drinking water before, during and after exercise. The amount of water your son requires during exercise depends on his age, weight, the intensity of the exercise and the environmental conditions. If your son is not a fan of plain water, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
Sick of school lunchboxes coming home full? Make your son part of the lunch-making process. Speak to your son about the types of food he likes and the activities he takes part in at lunchtime. If he spends most of his time out on the oval playing footy, encourage him to make himself a wrap (which he can eat one-handed standing up). Remind him to pack extra food on days when he has sport or after-school activities.
Park, S., Blanck, H. M., Sherry, B., Brener, N., O’Toole, T. (2012) ‘Factors associated with sugar-sweetened beverage intake among United States high school students’, The Journal of Nutrition 142(2): 306–312.
Danielle Wolff is a psychologist at Brighton Grammar School who is passionate about, and qualified in, adolescent nutrition. This article is about Wellbeing
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