Paleo Nutrition For Teens

Last April, I introduced you to Joshua Weissman and his blog Slim Palate. I invited Joshua to write a post for us that shares his thoughts on why it’s important for children and teens to eat real food — probably even following the paleo template — even if they’re not overweight or experiencing any heath issues. What follows is his take on the situation, along with his five tips to help young people eat healthier and five of his favorite recipes. You can get more of Joshua’s recipes on his site or in his upcoming book The Slim Palate Paleo Cookbook.


Josh Weissman Sounds Off

Eating healthfully as a teenager is equally as challenging as eating healthfully as an adult. People often make the assumption that teens and kids can eat whatever they want because they have “fast metabolisms,” but I completely disagree with this notion. Just because they may have fast metabolisms and aren’t overweight doesn’t mean that they are healthy — or won’t be negatively affected by poor eating in the future. The rate of obesity in children and adolescents is rising, so we might just start changing our minds about that ridiculous “fast metabolism” excuse. The CDC reports that in 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents were obese. That is a massive and incredibly concerning number, and it continues to swell.

Luckily for me, I learned early because I was once overweight — and I was physically and verbally harassed on a daily basis because of it. After extensive research, backbreaking work, and dedication, I lost more than 100 pounds and become healthy and fit.

Through my experiences, I’ve learned quite a lot about what needs to happen, and I have a unique perspective because I’ve actually experienced and overcome an obstacle that so many seem to struggle with. I want to be able to use my experiences to help adjust — and maybe one-day fix — that problem. This is exactly why I started my blog and wrote my cookbook.

The first thing that I noticed when I was reading up on obesity in children in the US, was that a lot of people seem to believe that the problem is simply a caloric imbalance. While in some cases this could be true, this is probably not the problem for the majority of kids.

I think a big part of the problem is the nutrition of the garbage that’s being served at most schools. Even most of the “healthy choices” that are offered are junk. Whole-wheat chicken tenders with a sweet and sour sauce (keyword: sweet) and with a side of some sort of chips — or whole-wheat pizza with a side of a whole-wheat bun or fries… are you kidding me?!

Sure, they might have apples as an optional side choice, but I think we all know that with the vast selection of chips, fries, and cookies, the choice of an apple is not going to be a very easy decision to make.

Of course, the meal is washed down with juice, fat-free milk, or chocolate milk — all of which have upwards of 14 grams of sugar. Most of my friends who have eaten these things complain that they taste horrible, so not only are the meals unhealthy options, but they’re setting up kids to assume that “healthy food” inherently tastes bad. I know that there have been plenty of attempts to make school lunches and food education better but they don’t really seem to be working.

That’s because they are referring to the broken food pyramid for knowledge, and bulking kids’ diets with excessive amounts of carbohydrates through “healthy grains,” which are not properly prepared and are likely to be highly refined.

And the attempt to replace sodas in machines with something better — juice — isn’t much of a step up when each can of juice contains about 25-40 grams of sugar. (If you don’t know how problematic that is in terms of blood glucose you can read up on insulin here.)

We need to stop supplementing kids — sedentary and active  — with this absurd amount of carbohydrates and sugar. If kids are fed meals that induce massive insulin spikes, then they will likely feel even more tired and sluggish… which leads to being less active. It’s a vicious cycle.

I think the answer is for kids to eat nutrient-dense foods — something like a plate of organic grass-fed/pastured meat and fresh vegetables.

It doesn’t have to be boring, like stringy chicken breasts with steamed broccoli. There are plenty of sources out there to find creative and delicious real food recipes that are easy and delicious, like this blog and mine, along with cookbooks like Nom Nom Paleo, Well Fed and Well Fed 2, The Ancestral Table, and my upcoming book The Slim Palate Paleo Cookbook.

My philosophy — for kids and adults — is to let go of your fear of fat and focus on eating high-quality foods. Make fruit a treat, eat more vegetables and properly raised meat that’s free of hormones and antibiotics, and enjoy plenty of healthy fats. See if that doesn’t just change everything.

5 Ways Kids & Teens Can Fix Their Eating Habits

1. Dress up your vegetables. Cook vegetables in appropriate amounts of butter, lard, tallow, or coconut oil, rather than serving them plain after boiling or steaming. Boiling and steaming can be great but in my opinion, but that’s not a great way to get kids to eat their vegetables. Be creative and try several cooking methods with vegetables. Roast them, sauté them with garlic, mash them, make them into soup — the possibilities are endless.

2. A little dairy might be OK for you. Unless you are certain you have a dairy intolerance, it might be just fine and perfectly healthy for you to have a little grass-fed cheese on top of your food —  in fact you might be able to enjoy healthier foods by using cheese as a condiment.

3. Be adventurous with your taste buds. Look for good, real food recipes on web sites like The Clothes Make The Girl, Slim Palate, Nom Nom Paleo, The Domestic Man, Chowstalker… and cook from them for fun. Really enjoy and taste the effort that went into the food. Be adventurous in food, and find something you like to make.

4. Drink water! Really, stop drinking anything that isn’t water. Yes, you can find little gray areas like kombucha or maybe even an occasional stevia-sweetened soda, but when you first start out, I recommend just sticking with water to get yourself adjusted to this way of eating and taking care of yourself.

5. Focus on eating filling foods. Protein and fat are the two most filling and satiating foods on your plate, so eat those first and don’t be too skimpy on portions, especially on protein. The point is, eat plenty of protein, a healthy amount of fat, and plenty of fibrous vegetables to keep you full. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied.


5 Slim Palate Recipes To Get You Started

Ancho Chile Braised Country Style Pork Ribs
Boeuf Bourguignon
Honey Masala Chai Roasted Nuts
Seared Cauliflower with Hazelnuts and Pomegranate


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