March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
If you have teenage children, you've heard it before: "There's nothing to eat in this house!" Sure, you can do your part by buying lots of healthy foods. But your teen can get involved too, by helping to prepare some of those foods. Why? "When teens learn cooking skills at home, they'll be less likely to eat unhealthy fast food or unbalanced meals when they become responsible for their own food choices after they leave home," says Academy spokesperson Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT.
To help your teen get cooking, stock your kitchen with these easy-to-prepare staples.
What teen doesn't crave crunchy snacks? Skip the chips and pretzels and invest in a popcorn popper. Popcorn is a whole grain, plus it's loaded with fiber for a healthy digestive system. Three air-popped cups deliver nearly four grams of fiber.
"When it comes to making a quick meal, it doesn't get much easier than canned beans," says Angelone. "Just rinse, drain and heat!" They're perfect for burritos, mashed on a tortilla, or added to canned soup for extra protein.
Even if teens have no clue how to cook, that doesn't mean they can't whip up a simple meal or snack. Nut and seed butters — such as peanut, almond or sunflower butter — all are perfect no-fuss foods for the novice cook. They're a cinch to spread on French toast with sliced bananas or make a tasty dip for apples, celery or bell pepper strips.
Whether fried, scrambled or hard-boiled, eggs are an ideal food for teen cooks, says Lori Zanini, RDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "With a prep and cook time of less than five minutes, eggs are an easy addition to any meal. They are a great source of protein, vitamin D, vitamin B 12, choline, and phosphorus – all essential nutrients for teens."
It doesn't matter whether they're fresh, frozen or canned, the more pre-prepped vegetables you have on hand, the more likely your teen will eat them. Think pre-cut baby carrots and grape tomatoes for snacks, frozen edamame and peas to add to pasta and diced tomatoes for chili.
Busy teens don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, but that doesn't mean dinner has to be a sandwich. Quick-cooking whole grains such as quinoa, instant brown rice and whole-wheat couscous take less than 15 minutes from start to finish. For a speedy meal, teens can toss cooked whole grains with microwaved frozen vegetables and season them with reduced-sodium soy sauce.
When you teach teens basic cooking techniques you'll be amazed by how quickly they catch on. Start by showing them how to grill, bake or broil marinated chicken, fish or beef. Or, demonstrate how to sauté ground chicken or turkey to add to spaghetti sauce, chili or tacos.
Before you know it, your teen will be telling you what's for dinner.