Eating Meals Together Helps Girls Grow Healthfully
Sitting down for frequent meals with your adolescent daughter may sound impossible during a time when your child is increasingly asserting her independence and schedules are hectic. But eating meals together often is something health experts say benefits girls in too many ways to be ignored.
“Meal time is a chance for parents or caregivers to connect with their daughters, to reach out, and to provide guidance and support in many areas of life, including nutrition,” says Dr. Jennifer Blake, who specializes in women’s health and is the CEO of The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC).
In a standard-setting guideline on female nutrition, the SOGC says adolescence is when many girls are nutritionally vulnerable. However, girls who eat frequent meals with family or caregivers are shown to do better in school, are at a lower risk for substance abuse, are more successful at maintaining a healthy body weight, may wait longer to have sex, and can develop a more positive view of the future. Mealtime is also a chance for caregivers and parents to observe and inquire about an adolescent’s relationship with food.
“Raising children is busy at the best of times and the adolescent years present a host of different challenges as girls begin to explore who they are in the context of identity and their relationship to others outside the family home,” says Dr. Blake. “But making the effort to emphasize and demonstrate healthful eating at the family table can build a positive relationship with nutrition, and fostering healthy habits early saves stress and health issues later on.”
Adolescence starts at the onset of puberty and ends around 18 years old. During this time, girls experience their biggest growth spurt and their nutritional needs increase. Yet many teenagers skip meals and snack more frequently and others become interested in dieting. The SOGC recommends that caregivers and healthcare providers emphasize maintaining a healthy weight and adequate nutrition through eating regular meals that include the right amounts of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, healthy fats, less red and processed meats, and are limited in sugar and sugar sweetened beverages.
Eating disorders also have the highest prevalence among girls in this age group.
Eating disorders can create irreversible health complications including stunted growth, loss of dental enamel from chronic vomiting, structural brain changes, delayed or ceased puberty, and underdeveloped bones.
Eating meals together provides an opportunity to identify unhealthy weight control behaviours, learn about life influences that contribute to these, and if necessary intervene early to help prevent long-term damage to health.
Many factors contribute to dieting and unhealthy weight control behaviours:
- Individual factors include body image dissatisfaction and distortion, a low sense of control over life, depression, and anxiety.
- Family factors include low family connectedness, parental criticism of weight, parental endorsement of dieting, or the absence of positive role models.
- Environmental factors include involvement in weight-related sport, weight teasing, and peer group endorsement of dieting.
- Others factors include illnesses and substance abuse.
Ways parents and caregivers can help foster nutritional health in adolescent girls:
- Eat frequent meals together
- Create opportunities for daughters to talk about social pressures and ideas about body image
- Encourage eating nutrient-dense foods
- Teach cooking skills by preparing healthy meals together
- Lead by example at home by choosing and preparing nutritious foods
- Talk about nutrition at the family table
- Emphasize nutrition and exercise for their roles in health rather than body image
- Observe eating patterns and seek medical and psychological support for girls showing signs of eating disorders.
RECIPE: Adolescent Meals
Chicken Nachos with Refried Black Beans
This family-style nacho dinner is mildly spiced. To kick it up a notch, add more ancho chili powder; to dial it down, replace ancho chili powder with regular chili powder. Be sure to use baked tortilla chips to keep the fat and calorie counts under control.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
2 PC Blue Menu Air Chilled Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1-½ tsp (7 mL) ancho chili powder
1 can (540 mL) PC Blue Menu Black Beans, drained and rinsed
3 tomatoes, diced
1 pkg (240 g) baked reduced-fat tortilla chips
1-½ cups (375 mL) shredded light Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup (125 mL) thinly sliced green onions
Half ripe-but-firm avocado, diced (optional)
1/2 cup (125 mL) PC 0% M.F. Plain Greek Yogurt (optional)
- Place chicken in small saucepan. Cover with 2 cups (500 mL) water and the salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Transfer chicken to plate using slotted spoon; let cool enough to handle. Shred or finely chop once cool. Meanwhile, continue to simmer cooking liquid for another 3 to 5 minutes or until reduced to 1 cup (250 mL); strain cooking liquid through fine-mesh strainer into small bowl. Set chicken and cooking liquid aside.
- Heat oil in heavy frying pan or wide saucepan over medium heat; cook onion for 5 minutes, stirring, or until softened. Stir in chili powder; cook for 30 seconds. Stir in beans, two-thirds of the diced tomatoes and the cooking liquid. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring often, or until tomatoes are softened and most of liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat. Mash bean mixture with potato masher until fairly smooth and thick; stir in chicken.
- Preheat oven to broil. Line baking sheet with foil.
- Spread tortilla chips onto prepared baking sheet; top with chicken-bean mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and green onions. Place on middle oven rack; broil, watching closely, for 2 to 4 minutes or until cheese is melted and chips are light golden. Remove from oven; sprinkle with remaining diced tomato. Garnish with avocado and yogurt, if desired.
Makes 8 servings
Per serving: 320 calories, fat 10 g, sodium 450 mg, carbohydrate 35 g, fibre 6 g, protein 25 g
High in fibre
Good source of calcium
TIP: Other optional garnishes to top with include sliced black olives, drained pickled jalapeño peppers, fresh coriander leaves and/or shredded iceberg lettuce.
For more information, please visit HerNutrition.ca