| 20.3°C Dublin

Do you know what your 
teen is 

My 15-year-old nephew is staying with me for a week of hard labour, long-since promised, on the back of a house move and the resultant remodel.

What teenagers seem to lack these days is hard work and I am pleasantly surprised by his eagerness to get a sweat up while hammering old cupboards out and lugging press doors to the mounting pile in the garden.

Life has become so managed and sedentary for many teenagers that they relish this freedom 
to expend endless energy and earn their relaxation hour at whatever gadget they favour that evening.


I am stricken by the amount it takes to feed a growing, sporty, hard-working teenager. I always refer to them as the one who you know best from the back, as their front is most often embedded in the fridge or in a cupboard, as they forage and scavenge for snacks and left-overs.

In their teen years boys, in particular, can gain a couple of stone weight in muscle and bone (not much extra fat is required, as it is for girls). It takes quite some feeding to achieve this, without resultant fat-gain in today's world of constant temptation. As I write, a McDonalds is being constructed within 250m (about three minutes' walk for an active teenager and about a five minute walk for those who walk as a herd) of a secondary school close to where I live.

This shocks me. I am appalled that it is deemed acceptable, after all the debate about causes of obesity in recent years. Any fast-food establishment is like a honey pot to which the teenage bee is attracted. I am well aware that the local supermarkets serve the same fast-food, in the form of hot 'chicken' rolls and wedges to those same teenagers, but do we have to allow this constant temptation to put in their path?

fast-food road to fast fat gain

Nutritionally speaking, fast-food serves up the most calories per bite of all tasty foods, other than chocolate. As a result, teenagers are instinctively drawn to it.

While I may have the discipline to avoid it like the plague, as I picture my arteries hardening on its consumption, they have not yet developed this. They are hungry, they are growing, they need calories.

I am particularly challenged on this point this week as I have no functioning kitchen and no facilities other than a fridge, a sink and a bar-b-que. It would be very easy to put burgers and sausages on every evening and get a pizza delivered on alternate nights, but I simply cannot feed my nephew this alone. What are his requirements?

First and foremost, he needs energy. Energy means calories (kcal on any food packaging). This needs to come mainly from carbohydrates. 
Carbohydrates should make up 
approximately 60pc of his days eating.

This is the stuff of porridge (I do have a microwave) or any good quality cereal (not sugar-coated) for breakfast with toast or brown soda bread and perhaps an egg. It is the large bread roll or four slices of thick-cut sandwich bread at lunch, with appropriate filling and a glass of milk.

It is the (micro-waved) potato aplenty, finished off on the bar-b-que at dinner and snacks over the course of the day that might include crackers and cheese or a cereal bar and of course an ice-cream treat for dessert.


What is of vital importance at any age is balanced eating. Nutritionally speaking, this is best attained when a wide variety of foods is eaten.

A teenage boy should eat so much that variety is never a problem. There should be carrots and broccoli one evening, curried cauliflower the next; stewed lamb for dinner one day and grilled salmon another; a bag of apples consumed over the course of the week along with a punnet of strawberries, cherries, and a bunch of bananas. Encourage variety through advertising the stuff.

If it is there in his line of vision on the kitchen table he will be almost incapable of resisting (as much as he is almost incapable of resisting fast-food if he is given the money to buy his own lunch).


Nutrients of particular importance to boys and girls, at this teenage stage, are calcium and iron. Calcium builds bones. We set down a possible 60pc of our bone mass in our teens.

If you drop the dairy in your teens (as many girls do because they wrongly think it fattening) then you risk, in Ireland, a future of weakened bones (we tend to get most of our calcium from dairy products in Ireland).

A teenager needs five portions of dairy a day to fulfil this calcium requirement. This translates to a pint-and-a-half of milk at a minimum.

If your teenager needs a snack after a match, then, or just because they are foraging in the 'goodies' press, guide them towards a bowl of cereal with milk. Low-fat milk (no need for skim) is appropriate for everyone in the house, over the age of two.


We get iron, the most available type, from red meats, white meats, fish and in a different form (less readily absorbed) from vegetables. I find that the hungry hound will love black-pudding when it is presented to him with toast and tomato. The over-the-top savouriness of it comes from salt (or MSG; let's not be naieve).

I found a fabulously (all Irish blood-products) tasty one made in Ballyvourney recently 
(being from that part of the world might bias 
me, of course, but I do like the "all-Irishness" of it).

A steak once a week is great if you can afford it, but what I do for bar-b-que season is make home-made burgers. By this I mean that I take organic lean minced beef, roll it into a ball in my hands, flatten it and grill it.

And finally...

While it should go without saying, our teenagers need to eat fruit and vegetables like they were going out of fashion. Sadly they do not.

They should accompany every meal with at least one piece of fruit, and vegetables should feature at lunch as well as at dinner.

I am well aware that your teenager will not eat a bowl of salad when eating with his peers. He might, however, have soup. He might have cherry tomatoes and coleslaw.

Without filling the hunger gaps with such highly nutritious and high-fibre foods, he will be at the shop buying junk again.

I have no objection to some junk in a day when the variety has been achieved and balance is maintained. If they are active, they will burn it up instantly.