Oftentimes, my clients hope to change not only their eating patterns, but also those of a spouse or entire household.
When family members are on board with this, it certainly makes things easier (and more fun) for everyone. After all, shifting eating and lifestyle habits can be really tough – at least at first. And living in a supportive environment can go a long way to ensure successful, sustained implementation.
Sometimes the family members in question are teens and tweens. And sometimes convincing them to jump on mom or dad’s paleo train isn’t so easy. (I’ll add that some of my clients are teens themselves – and working with them one-on-one is truly a gift and an inspiration.)
If you’re eating paleo-primal and want your teen to join in, what’s the best way to go about it?
Honestly, there’s no one answer. Teens, like all of us, are individuals. The approach that’s best for one may totally flounder with another. Still, as a starting point, here are 5 Tips for Getting Your Teen to Go Paleo.
1. Add before taking away.
Rather than focus on what your teen can’t have when eating paleo-primal, emphasize the abundance of great stuff they can have.
You know – plenty of meat, fish, eggs and healthy fats; a moderate amount of fruit, nuts and seeds; as many veggies as you can get them to eat; and, of course, occasional paleo-primal treats, including dark chocolate and grain-free baked goods.
2. Appeal to the teenage palate (i.e., make food taste – and look – good to a 15-year-old).
If your teen is like most, you probably won’t get far pushing roasted asparagus and brussels sprouts.
Things are way more likely to swing in your favor with options like loaded burgers (minus the buns), cinnamon-sprinkled carrot fries (they’ll disappear in minutes) and bacon-topped “meatza” (might sound disgusting, but it’s amazing).
Play around to find what works. Your kid love spaghetti? Spaghetti squash topped with a simple tomato sauce and meatballs looks and tastes very, very close to the “real thing” (but is made of real food).
When it comes to dessert, there are a gazillion recipes for homemade paleo cookies, cakes and other treats that are just as tasty as grain-based, white-sugar versions.
A really simple, fairly healthy option is blending a ripe avocado, a ripe banana, 1 egg, a handful of cacao chips, a quarter-cup of dark cacao powder, a half-teaspoon of baking soda and a capful of vanilla extract. Spoon the mixture onto a baking tray and cook on 375 for 10 minutes.
The result: fabulously rich, chocolatey, cookie goodness.
If your teen’s skeptical and needs extra sweetness to seal the deal, you can add a teaspoon of raw honey to the mixture before cooking and sub regular chocolate chips for the bittersweet cacao ones.
Now (to throw a money wrench in everything I just suggested), I want to be clear that with Alchemist Eating clients (and in my own cooking), I make a concerted effort to steer away from too many paleo treats and sweets.
They’re okay as a once-a-week special occasion, but too much and/or too often can easily derail health, wellness and weight-loss goals.
With teens, however, if the alternative is white-sugar-and-grain-based desserts, a little more leeway can be a good idea.
The exception is when teens are struggling with excess body fat or even obesity (which, sadly, is increasingly common). In this case, downplay paleo-primal sweets and up-play healthy fats, proteins and veggies.
3. Bring attention to results they care about (but do so mindfully).
Sure, paleo-primal eating helps support gut health, prevent diabetes and ward off conditions ranging from arthritis to allergies to cognitive decline. Problem is, these may not be your teen’s top priorities.
Clear, acne-free skin, on the other hand? Just might get their attention (and possibly convince them to scale back on Dr. Pepper and donuts).
One way to work this angle is to pay attention to your teen’s goals or aspirations – and respond with healthy examples.
Say, for instance, your 17-year-old has started working out and wants “bigger muscles” or “a six pack.” Send him or her over to the Primal Blueprint Fitness section of Mark’s Daily Apple for a healthy perspective that’s quite different from the misguided conventional “wisdom” that might be coming from friends (or even “trained” adults).
For a growing number of teens, weight loss and the return to a stable, healthy weight is also a really big deal – not just for the sake of looking better or boosting confidence among peers, but for supporting long-term health and reducing their risk of very serious diseases.
When it comes to weight issues, working with teens requires a super-mindful, delicate touch. They’re already surrounded by messages promoting idealized (and unhealthy) body compositions. And they often feel out of control of their own bodies, which may be rapidly changing.
Modelling healthy eating and lifestyle habits for your teens can be far more effective than telling them what to do. It may not yield immediate results, but will have far greater impact over the long term.
No matter what, please, please, please, take care not to “shame” your teen when it comes to weight, appearance or eating. Instead, adopt a positive approach – and help him or her get outside support if needed.
I’ve worked with quite a few teens through Alchemist Eating and am happy to chat about how I might be of help to yours.
4. Nudge teens toward positive role models among their peers (without comparing or judging).
Let’s face it. To most teens, we’re really not that cool. In fact, we’re kind of the opposite of cool…and pretty much a whole other species – one that’s totally boring and doesn’t really get it.
Good thing is, there are young people out there offering excellent examples of healthy eating patterns. Let them do some of the work!
In the social media world, a growing number of teens (as well as 20-somethings) are embracing paleo-primal eating and lifestyle patterns in a very public way – promoting them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs.
Some have done so to overcome serious health conditions (including primarily physical ailments, such as asthma, Celiac’s disease, Crohn’s and IBS, as well as problems showing up on a mental-emotional level, such as ADHD, anxiety and depression).
Others have gone paleo-primal for less urgent but still important reasons. This way of eating and living has offered them a healthy, sustainable way to achieve clear skin, shed excess body fat, boost flagging energy levels, and get rid of “brain fog” or lack of focus.
Teenaged paleo bloggers and writers are another source of peer-based inspiration.
Joshua Weissman of Slim Palate, for instance, was 19 when he got started…and continues to share amazing recipes and gorgeous food photos through his blog and cookbook.
Heather Resler of Cook it Up Paleo embraced paleo eating after being diagnosed with Celiac’s disease as a teen. Since then, she’s put out a great cookbook and blog.
As you share role models such as these, take extra care not to compare, judge or make your own teen feel “less than.”
Gently, with as little fuss as possible, bring paleo peer examples into their sphere of awareness. Then just sit back and wait.
Which leads to a final tip…
5. Don’t push.
This perhaps most important of all. Fail to follow it, and there’s high risk of derailing all your other efforts.
Make healthy, appealing options available; try to get the whole family on board; and teach teens what different foods do to their bodies.
But please, please, please, don’t turn paleo-primal eating into a strict set of “food rules” or an “Us-versus-You” struggle.
Instead, work the paleo-primal angle artfully, subtly. Think of yourself as mindfully, patiently planting seeds. These probably won’t sprout straight away (and may even take years to surface).
That’s okay. You’re still doing good work – tending the soil, offering what’s needed, taking care. No need for haste or force.
Watch for (and gently encourage) small changes and gradual shifts. And know that slowly, slowly, good things are coming.
Have a teen or tween? Or a teen or tween yourself? Please share your experiences, if you’d like!
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