Tween nutrition: The best foods for our pre-teen children
We have a running joke in our family. If it's not burger-shaped, my son won't eat it. The topic of food can be a sensitive one for parents. Finding out what we should be feeding our tweens is one challenge, working out which foods they will actually eat is another! So I spoke to nutritionist and gut health expert Katie O’Connell to get some advice...
FATS ARE NOT THE ENEMY
Fats are probably the most important food group for our growing tweens. Despite the fact that the word has long been associated with bad health, ‘fat’ is vital to healthy brain development.
The human brain is composed of 60% fats! And these fat cells promote healthy neurological connections, which are vital for memory and learning. A healthy brain can ward off disease and protect against cancer, heart disease and early onset dementia in later life too. So I always tell parents, make sure your children are eating healthy fats.
SO WHAT ARE HEALTHY FATS?
The best sources are fish, nuts and seeds.
If you can, get your kids to eat oily fish twice a week at least. Salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna (fresh not tinned), herrings, prawns and whitebait are all great sources of protein and Omega 3.
HOW DO WE GET OUR TWEENS TO EAT FISH?
In my experience, lots of children are fussy about the texture and flavour of fish. As a nutritionist, many of my adult clients don’t like fish themselves and so they don’t feed it to their children. My advice is to just keep trying different things. Try different types of fish – of all sizes and flavours. Explore new recipes. You will definitely find something that the whole family can enjoy together.
Make sure you try the smaller fish as well as the reliable bigger ones like tuna and salmon, as these large fish can contain trace pollutants. We should only eat those once a week – yet another challenge!
KATIE'S TOP TIPS:
1) Chuck a handful of prawns into a stir fry or pasta sauce with some chilli and lime.
2) Mackerel has a delicious, mild flavour that works well mashed into a dip with a squeeze of lemon and garlic - your tweens won’t even realise it’s fish!
3) Add pesto or cherry tomatoes to baked salmon steaks and serve with potato wedges for a healthy twist on fish and chips.
4) Anchovies have a great salty flavour so they taste great amongst other complicated flavours - try in a pasta sauce or on top of a pizza.
NUTS AND SEEDS
“A handful of nuts a day,” is my guideline for parents of tweens. But this one isn’t easy either because nuts are banned in schools! You have to be creative at either end of the day and get them into breakfasts, snacks and dinners...
KATIE'S TOP TIPS:
1) Nut butters like peanut, almond or hazelnut are high in good monounsaturated fats and proteins, and can be spread onto toast in the morning for a really good start to a day of learning.
2) When they get in from school, slice some apple wedges and have a small bowl of peanut butter to dip them into.
3) Blend almonds into a smoothie with a banana for a great bedtime drink that will help your tween drift off and give their brain a boost as they go into healing sleep mode.
4) Get them off to a good start with a bowl of crunchy delicious porridge. Soak it overnight to save time in the morning.
5) Keep a jar of mixed seeds in the cupboard and sprinkle them over breakfast cereal, salads, in sandwiches and on stir fries. Just a few seeds a day is fine.
Katie O'Connell is a nutritionist offering consultations to parents and children. She has over 11 years of experience in the field of health and nutrition.