Anyone who has teenagers at home will be aware of the sheer scale of the eating that has to take place during the course of the average day, in order for them to survive. The problem in our household is that quite often this takes place surreptitiously from the biscuit tin. Now biscuits are great if you have one or two of them, now and then, but if you feed your face with them ad infinitum, they will upset your appetite/body chemical balance and consequently reduce the number of more appropriate nutrients you take in during your main meals. Naturally telling teenagers this is a complete waste of breath, because biscuits are a) nice, b) handy and c) easy to pilfer. Hence the tendency to eat too many quick release carbohydrates.
As a way of combatting this, my husband and I recently came up with the idea of having a ‘teen shelf’ in the fridge. We stocked it up with Cheese Strings, Dairylea dippers, chicken drumsticks, dried apple slices, yoghurts, low fat chocolate mousses in little pots, portion sized yoghurt drinks, carrot batons, little packets of olives (my eldest is rather partial to an olive or two) and low fat Sunbite crisps. In some ways this goes against the grain for me, because I am not a great fan of either processed food or excess packaging, being austerity minded, but in this case we wanted to try it as an experiment to see if their eating habits improved.
Now a crucial part of this cunning plan was firstly not informing the teenagers of what we had in store for them, and secondly making sure the packets were opened just a little bit, so it looked like this was unattended food where a little bit of snacking would be fine (despite their food pilfering tendencies, they are paradoxically quite well trained and polite about not opening new packets of food unnecessarily, to avoid waste). Obviously in the case of the yoghurts and dippers we didn’t open the actual pots, but just took the multipacks out of the cardboard sleeve and separated the individual pots. Similarly we split the pack of Cheese Strings into individual mini packets. The olives we left sealed.
This project seemed to be an immediate success. We noticed that the Cheese strings went first, plus some dippers. Great, I thought. Calcium being ingested. Then they moved onto the chicken drumsticks and carrot batons, and one or two low fat mousses disappeared after lunch. Eventually my eldest enquired about whether he might be allowed to take a little pack of olives, and went up to his bedroom with them. The teen shelf is currently pretty empty after a weekend of grazing, but the children ate their normal meals more enthusiastically as well. This was reassuring because usually there is a complete disconnect between the effort made to give them a hearty home cooked meal to counteract the snacking, and their propensity to actually eat the stuff we have bothered to prepare carefullyfor them.
We have kitchen dominion! Now all we have to do is remind them of the delights of the fruit bowl …