By Jennifer LaRue Huget
My son's name is Charlie. But lately I've come to think of him as the Gaping Maw.
At 14, Charlie is 5 feet 10. Many mornings he comes down to breakfast looking taller than he was the night before. And though he has lots of interests, his primary activity lately seems to be scavenging for food.
Like many of us, when he gets hungry, he gets grumpy. So to avoid that unpleasantness and to fuel his physical growth, I try to keep him amply fed. But I've found that, in the effort to keep him full, my normal nutrition standards often fall by the wayside. Plus, I'm going broke!
At Charlie's last checkup, the pediatrician told me that as long as he's healthy and physically active (as, thankfully, he is), I shouldn't sweat the details of his diet too much. Still, I'd like to do my best by him. So I asked some experts for tips on filling the Gaping Maw without spending a fortune.
Sarah Krieger, a St. Petersburg dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says my pediatrician's advice is sound. "The key is to keep saturated fat to a minimum," she says. "But if his cholesterol, weight and blood pressure are within normal limits, he can afford" some flexibility in his diet.
Georgia Orcutt, author of the 2007 book How to Feed a Teenage Boy (Celestial Arts/Ten Speed Press), knows what I'm up against, having raised two boys. Here's her advice, based on her experience:
• Jettison junk food. Orcutt says it's "critically important" for parents to help their children and teens develop healthful eating habits, which set the stage for good health through adulthood. She talked with her sons about the "political" aspect of making food choices. "Your dollar is a vote," she told them, explaining that she was "not going to vote for those foods" by buying junk.
• Make it easy. Orcutt, a working mom, left two boxes (one for each boy) full of "healthy stuff" (baby carrots, sandwich fixings, mozzarella sticks) in the fridge from which the kids could assemble snacks after school. "They knew there was food to eat," she says, and that they could feed themselves by "just pulling this stuff out and eating it."
• Cook extra. Orcutt says she began cooking an abundance of rice (mixing highly nutritious brown rice with white to make it more palatable) and freezing portions in bags the boys could toss in the microwave. Other "extras" included roast chicken, grilled chicken breasts and ratatouille.
• Teach cooking skills. Teenage boys are capable of far more than microwaving food, Orcutt notes.She taught her boys "simple sauteing techniques," which she says they use to this day. (They're now 20 and 23.) Stir-frying some of that microwaved rice with peppers, celery and onion is easy, she says; the boys could add a bit of cooked meat or drop in an egg. Wraps are also easy: "There isn't a food known that can't go in a wrap," Orcutt says. She suggests a filling and nutritious mix of beans, shredded lettuce and other vegetables, and "a little shredded cheese."
• Suggest smoothies. Full of protein, smoothies made with yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit are more filling than you might think; you can add nutrition by including peanut butter or flaxseed in the mix.