Is junk food abuse?

My sister hosted a 14-year-old exchange student from Wales recently, and one of the things she found most challenging about integrating him into her family’s day-to-day life was meal times – for the simple reason that he refused point-blank to eat any fruit or vegetables.

Any at all.

Many parents struggle with getting their young children to eat their greens – many kids just don’t like them. I know parents who go to all sorts of lengths to smuggle veggies down their kids’ throats. I myself hid finely shredded spinach in tomato pasta for my littlies.

One bizarre attempt that really stands out is a mother who hollowed out apricots and filled them with cooked butternut, with the net result that her child, now a grown man, still hates both apricots and butternut.

All that said, you’d think that with time and education (for both kids and their parents), most children would be eating ‘right’ by the time they’re into their teens. But you’d be wrong.

I know that if I’d left my two teens to their own devices, they’d have happily stocked the fridge with what Jamie Oliver describes as ‘golden-brown’ foods – mass-processed, often pre-fried, largely nutrition-free junk.

But the thing about having teens is that you don’t leave them to their own devices. They may have one foot in the adult world, but they’re still very much your responsibility, and making sure they eat right is part of this.

At the very least, you can ensure that your pantry is free of junk foods and regularly stocked with whole grains, fruits and vegetables. That really isn’t hard to do, and it’s why I agreed with Jamie Oliver when he said that feeding children inappropriately amounts to child abuse.

That statement stirred up a roiling stockpot of resentment among parents – and mainly among the same parents who blatantly undermined the Naked Chef’s efforts to improve the school diets of obese kids by either smuggling in junk food for them or giving them money to go out and buy rubbish at lunchtime.

The mind can only boggle.

A teen on the loose

My daughter’s first year away from home at university proved to me how vital it is that parents provide the right food for their teens. At home, her choices were limited to low-GI bread, low-fat milk, minimum meat and processed foods, and as much fruit and vegetables as she could stomach.

Let free into the heady and delicious world of fast food, my daughter’s poor dietary choices showed almost immediately in her skin, physique and significantly lowered energy levels.

Many parents of teenagers will recognise this poor eating as a symptom of ‘first-year’ syndrome (along with bad money management and way too much jolling). The important thing, however, is that your child has the knowledge, gained through years of ‘enforced’ healthy eating at home, to correct it – and, to my relief, my daughter has shown that she does. She’s recently begun making a real effort to grocery-shop sensibly and cook healthily, and the results are already evident.

This is why, when a 14-year-old tells you that he ‘doesn’t eat’ fruit or vegetables, it’s not him your irritation should be aimed at – it’s his abusive parents.

Read more by Tracey Hawthorne

How involved are you in what your teen eats?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
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