The Trials Of Feeding a Teen

Everyone said it would happen…that I would blink, say, three times and my kids would be practically grown. And here I am, with my oldest now a teenager. She’s taller than me, with broader shoulders, and a better vocabulary. She beats me at Scrabble and soccer. Everyone warned me that this was how it would play out, but like childbirth, you just don’t get it until it happens.

I’m suddenly dealing with all sorts of teenagery things, most especially an adolescent’s biological drive to make her own choices, decisions about food notwithstanding.

When kids are young, parents are fully at the helm, whether it’s deciding when to introduce solids or whether soda is okay at birthday parties. As they grow, so does the need to loosen the reins. And as someone who has thought enormously about nourishing my kids, it’s not that easy to let go.

Case in point, lately, is breakfast. Morning grooming for my teen has blossomed into quite an affair (the fact that she wakes up looking positively fresh and lovely appears to have no bearing on the matter). Little time remains, therefore, for something so trivial as eating. My response has been to go into overdrive trying to get a few spoonfuls of oatmeal or a nut butter-smeared bagel into her before she’s off to school. She’s rushed and disinterested, hair and outfit take priority over omelets.

Is it such a big deal in the scheme of things? No. But I tend to catastrophize. When I caught one of my kids in a fib at age four, I fast forwarded 20 years and imagined her friendless and jobless, a lifetime pathological liar. So you can imagine what’s possible when someone doesn’t eat breakfast.

I had a lightbulb moment, though, just a few days ago. In yet another attempt to send my teen off with a full belly, I pulled out one of the precious eggs from the farmer’s market that go for six bucks a dozen, fried it in a little olive oil, and arranged it on a plate with whole grain toast. My teenager raced past, paused to eye the food, snatched a slice of toast, and sped out the door for the bus. I was left behind to watch my 50 cent farm egg grow cold on the table.

It occurred to me, then, that I needed to stop making her breakfast. One of the hallmarks of teenagerdom is independence. The more I push my food on her, the more likely she is to pull away. At 14, it’s practically her job to reject what matters to me most.

So I’m experimenting. The day after “the egg incident” I said nothing about breakfast, prepared nothing, and watched as she cut a grapefruit and made some toast. Yes, I wanted to chase her down the block with a hard boiled egg yelling, “but you need some protein!” But there are worse things. I’m giving her room to make her own good choices. I’m guessing she will.

 

Comments

01.26.2012 at 10:00 AM #

sarah

I love this. I’m a long way off from this, but I know a girl’s strong independent spirit (both from my own and my one-year-old’s) is a force to be reckoned with. Bravo to you for letting go, and for guiding the first 14 years with such delicious, sound judgement that your lovely young lady will certainly find her way back to breakfast, eggs and all, in the blink of an eye.

01.26.2012 at 10:08 AM #

J McKay

i love this post, it’s brought tears to my eyes. Those eggs are poultry gold.

01.26.2012 at 10:08 AM #

katiemorford

What prompted the tears? The wasted farm egg or the thought of your sweet girls one day being teenagers?

01.26.2012 at 11:36 AM #

Suzanne

You are brilliant! Thank you, Katie!!!

01.26.2012 at 3:26 PM #

Pamela

This is very touching! Our children are indeed our teachers,
Your tips for feeding a teen are great!

01.26.2012 at 3:40 PM #

[email protected]

As a mum of a teenage girl I completely agree with all of your points, especially the last two. My daughter – who has a wider palate than me, the food writer and cancer health educator – has recently said how my own consistently healthy but non-faddy approach to food and family cooking has been a huge influence on her image of herself and her body. I had no idea how deeply my rather unconscious efforts had affected her. All of your points go towards raising healthy, and hopefully happy, young adults.

01.30.2012 at 11:21 AM #

Josylyn

this reads like a wonderfully healthful breakfast; solid, sound, sweet and savory. what a gifted mother, writer, nutritionist & chef. i want to immediately investigate the effect of too little protein on a carb-loving 4 year old who is already chomping at her independence. then i want to rush to integrate preparation for her tween-hood into my therapy! what a delightful feast you offer – a full balanced read!

01.30.2012 at 11:21 AM #

katiemorford

Indeed….the quest for independence starts young! I think there’s a strong parallel between 4 and 14.

02.03.2012 at 5:08 PM #

Elisa

According to my mother, all I ate for dinner during my high school years was Lucky Charms. I try to remember this as I clench my teeth as my teenager refuses each lovingly cooked meals and grabs a PBandJ sandwich or protein bar. Ugh. No fun.

02.03.2012 at 5:08 PM #

katiemorford

Hi Elisa….sounds like payback. No, not fun!

02.04.2012 at 12:54 PM #

Katrina @ In Katrina's Kitchen

My boys are only 5 and (almost) 2 so they still pretty much eat what I give to them. Pretty much. My problem seems to be getting my preschooler WANT to eat breakfast. He just doesn’t have an appetite for an hour or so after waking up. Then I’m left trying to shove food in him before we leave for preschool- only 3 mornings a week now but Kindergarten is not long off! I can only imagine how frantic I will be when he is a teenager and wanting toast for breakfast! Oy vey!

02.04.2012 at 12:54 PM #

katiemorford

Hi Katrina
That’s a tricky one … my kids sometimes report a lack of appetite before school, too. Sometimes brainstorming together about what might taste good even if they don’t “feel” like eating helps. Even a visit to the market together to come up with options can be useful. Good luck with that!
Katie

02.04.2012 at 1:51 PM #

Eryn

It’s like everything else in their lives, the more we fight, the more they’ll dig in their heels. Food is as personal as their hair, etc, it’s important for teens to have choices.

& a grapefruit & whole-grain toast is still far better than a bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs! I had Pepsi & Shock Tarts for breakfast when I was in high school. My teeth hurt just thinking about it.

02.04.2012 at 2:41 PM #

Liz

So fun to read! i am living a similar set of challenges — but all three of mine are teens! They’ve been making breakfast and lunch for themselves for a long time — my challenge is making sure that there is enough healthy “convenience” food in the house!!

02.04.2012 at 2:41 PM #

katiemorford

Hi Liz,
Agreed…hitting on those grab and go, healthy convenience foods is key. Best of luck with all of your teens. That will be my life in a handful of years. Having just one teen is enough for now!
Katie

02.04.2012 at 4:05 PM #

Michelle

I feed two teenagers of my own and so many of their friends. I make sure I have all the healthy starts to breakfasts, lunches and snacks, and they take it from there. Sometimes they even cook dinner; their favorite meals are Thai influenced, with lots of zucchini! Breakfasts are harder, with everyone rushing to get out of the house on time, but it’s working to let them make their own choices.

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