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Fuel For Feeding Bottomless Teens

Fuel For Feeding Bottomless Teens

By Mir Kamin

When my kids were toddlers, I felt like getting them to eat was a never-ending slog. Both of them subsisted on air and the occasional glass of milk, and my son, especially, was known as “The Littlest Breadatarian” for years. (Yep, if it was bread, he loved it, though that meant he’d take a bite or two and then shape the remainder of the roll or slice into a squishy plaything.) Plus there was the whole delightful issue of, “You seem really cranky, I think you need a snack,” while said cranky child screamed that s/he was! not! hungry!! It’s not that I fretted about food all the time—I knew that toddlers are notorious for being picky eaters, and I tried to serve reasonable options and remove any power struggle from the mix—but I wondered if there would ever come a time when one or both kids would be able to 1) recognize/verbalize hunger, 2) obtain a reasonable food option for themselves, and 3) eat it.

Well, you know the saying about being careful what you wish for? Now I have two teenagers, and they want to eat all the time. Hooray…?

My little breadatarian, oddly enough, has blossomed into an adventurous eater with a sophisticated palate. He loves all things seafood and spice, and often helps me prepare meals. My daughter, on the other hand—once a decent eater in her tween years—is now a vegetarian (strike 1) with multiple OCD-related food issues (strike 2) that can make mealtime especially challenging. Both kids, like most teens, are never too full for ice cream or potato chips, but are often uninterested in the fresh veggies I cut up for them. And both kids are even crankier when hungry now than when they were toddlers.

So: I’m not into Sneaky-Chef-esque tactics, not really. I see no point in hiding squash in my macaroni and cheese; both my kids will eat squash served as squash (provided it’s an alternate Tuesday when the moon is full, mind you), and while fruits and veggies are nutritious and wonderful, what active, growing bodies need even more is protein, and lots of it. Sure, I can put out a bag of chips for my son and his friends and they’ll demolish it in under five minutes and think they’re full, but that’s not the kind of sustained energy source that they need. My goal these days is to pump up the protein everywhere I can, plus provide complex carbohydrates, plus get the kids thinking about food-as-fuel so that they can make good food choices on their own, too.

Protein powders are your friends

I do a lot of my own baking, which I know is not everyone’s thing, but at any given time I have two or three canisters of protein powders in my pantry. Hemp protein substitutes well for up to half the flour in recipes for things like muffins, and is high in both protein and fiber (both help make you feel full). Just be aware that, well, it’s green, and can make your creations appear unappetizing if you’re not careful; I tend to use this in pumpkin breads as the orange counteracts the green pretty well. Whey protein doesn’t have as much fiber, but is high in protein and can be purchased in a variety of flavors (for smoothies) or unflavored (for baking), and is versatile and colorless. (Two tips: read labels carefully, as flavored wheys often have chemical additives, and if you don’t want to shell out for the sports-grade stuff, just buy a box of powdered milk and start adding a couple of packets to your baked items to up the protein.) I tend to avoid soy powder because I think it has an aftertaste, but if you have a milk allergy and/or dislike the hemp, that’s another option.

I often bake on the weekends and freeze big batches of muffins, cookies and other items that can be grabbed for breakfasts or snacks, and adding protein means I can say, “Sure, grab one of those cookies for breakfast” without guilt.


Remember chia pets? Chia seeds are coming into their own as a trendy “superfood,” and a search on the ‘net will yield a zillion different chia-based recipes (apparently you can make it into pudding…?), which frankly scares me a little. But I always have a bag of chia on hand because those nearly-invisible, mostly-tasteless little seeds are a powerhouse of nutrients, fiber, and protein. I add them to everything. They go in all my baked goods, into my pancake mix, meatloaf, veggie burgers, dips, smoothies, on salads; seriously, once you start using chia, you will put it everywhere.

Beans are good food, even in desserts

Legumes are nutritional powerhouses, and they have a lot of lasting power in terms of filling you up. We eat a lot of bean dishes in the general course of our meals, but a friend recently turned me on to this cake recipe (and its counterpart, this brownie recipe), both of which are gluten-free, high in fiber and protein, and delicious. The cake recipe makes a dozen muffins, and I let the kids have them for breakfast, even. I know the recipes sound crazy, but I promise they taste nothing like beans in the end.

Brown is better than white

The rule of thumb about complex carbohydrates—which make you feel fuller or longer, and have more protein and other nutrients—is that they’re not white. Sweet potatoes are better than white potatoes; oat bran is better than refined flour; brown rice is better than white rice. We all know this stuff. It doesn’t mean you have to give up the simple carbs your family probably loves, it just means that you start thinking about swaps and compromises more often than not. In our home, for example, I simply don’t buy white rice; I go for a brown basmati or jasmine rice, which we all like just as well, and no one misses the alternative (especially when I cook it in coconut milk; sticky coconut rice tastes decadent no matter what kind of rice you use). On the other hand, we still have white potatoes sometimes, but we have sweet potatoes more often. I’m gluten-free, so I don’t really eat pasta (rice pasta is a good substitute but not very nutritious), but I’ll make pasta for the rest of the family, I’ll just buy the whole grain or “extra fiber” or “hidden veggie” kind for them. We have pancakes once a week, but I make my own multigrain mix (complete with oat bran, chia, and whey protein) so that it’s not an empty carb-fest.

Pair snack favorites with nutrition-dense counterparts

All things in moderation, right? I’m the last person to suggest you ditch the Oreos or cheese curls; that only turns foods into “forbidden fruit,” and besides, a little bit of junk food is fine. So let them have their Oreos with a glass of milk (or milk-substitute, if you don’t do dairy), their chips along with a Greek yogurt dip, etc. My kids are far too big/old for those tiny little-kid cups of yogurt and squeeze pouches of applesauce, but you know what? I buy them anyway, because they’re an easy sell as a, “Sure, and why won’t you grab one of those to go with that” kind of snack. No one is happier than me when a kid opts for a banana or an apple, but in terms of filling them up, I’ve learned to suggest they smear it with some nut butter or grab a yogurt or a handful of almonds to go with it.

Do you have any great tips/tricks or recipes to share that are getting you through the hollow-leg years? Someone is always hungry ’round here, so I’ll take all the suggestions I can get.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • […] these kids and encouraging them to grow. I am ashamed. But not so ashamed that I won’t tell you how we do it, because misery loves […]

  • Susan Miller

    August 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    not sure that I understand how your daughter’s vegetarianism is a ‘strike’. clearly you’ve done no dietary research (tho i might be feeling bizarrely defensive). she’s quite possibly leading your family toward better health. not to mention the ethical reasons to abstain from meat… 

    • Karen.

      August 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm

      I think it’s only a strike insofar as it makes a home run that much more difficult. If you have two things to navigate, finding a path that doesn’t run up against or cause a third thing is tough. One of my kids has texture issues and she’s down to just one vegetable. I’ll do a lot to prevent her from disliking green beans! 

    • Mir Kamin

      August 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      I have no problem with her choice to go veggie, but she is recovering from an eating disorder and eschewing what is perhaps the easiest source of high-calorie protein. Couple her pickiness with refusal to eat an entire class of food and it makes it hard to get all the nutrients into her that she needs, that’s all.

      I’ve actually done tons of dietary research, both when she first decided to give up meat five years ago, and since she’s been ill. It’s absolutely possible to eat a healthy diet sans meat, but when your kid is painfully thin, I don’t think it’s odd to wish you could just hand her a cheeseburger. 😉

    • Jen R

      August 13, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      She means “three strikes and you’re out (of options for food)”. Not like being a vegetarian is bad, just that it makes choosing food (esp. high-protein food) more difficult.

  • Sheryl

    August 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Almond meal is a good substitute for some of the flour in recipes too.

    • Mir Kamin

      August 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Love almond meal! I use it and raw oat bran for part of the flour in most baked goods. 

  • Nancy R

    August 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Is there any sort of rule of thumb when substituting for white flour? What about when adding protein powder? I bake a lot due to a peanut allergy in the house and would love to increase the nutritional value without changing the taste.

    • Mir Kamin

      August 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm

      I do a lot of fiddling, Nancy. Like I said above, I’ve found a half-hemp substitution in a sweet baked good like pumpkin muffins seems to work well. It also seems like half-whey works a lot of the time if the remaining half of the flour includes heartier options than refined flour (almond meal, oat bran, whole wheat flour). Basically when I’m doing a new recipe I start by subbing in a smallish amount of protein and if that works I try more, the next time. The trick is that if you go too far, the consistency gets weird.

  • Susan Miller

    August 13, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks for clarifying so kindly; sorry for being defensive. I’ve been vegan for 7 years and am raising two little ones (3 and 8 months) vegan as well. Diet is a hot button at times and I should have read more carefully. To fatten up my kids, I use a lot of coconut oil and avocado in my kitchen. Adding coconut oil to baked goods, smoothies, oatmeal, etc. gives a great tropical flavor and a whole lotta fat. And avocados just make every sandwich better (except for pb&j perhaps).

    And my comment about a lack of dietary research was about the harmful effects meat protein can have on our organs. That and the hormones the industry uses to make food animals bigger and better, faster. Not good for the animals, not good for us. 

    • Mir Kamin

      August 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Thank you for coming back. 🙂 I use a lot of coconut oil as well, but somehow I am the only person in my family who loves avocados. (I don’t know how this happened.)

      Ethically I agree that veganism is the ideal. In practice I am an omnivore striving to meet Michael Pollan’s advice (“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”).

  • Crystal

    August 13, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Love the links to the cake and the brownies… anyway we can get a link to the pancake recipe?

    • Mir Kamin

      August 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      I think that pancake mix may be an upcoming post, Crystal!

  • jill

    August 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    thanks for the tips – my 9 yr old has been eating us out of house and home already, and he’s the oldest of four, so I fear for the future. I love the idea of adding protein to baking.

  • s

    August 13, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Does coconut oil give the final baked goods a coconut taste ?  the cake recipe is intriguing especially since I have a super picky child who likes very few protein sources but I hate the taste of coconut.  I will try the unflavored whey protein as well.  greek yogurt is a nice snack at our house.

    • Susan Miller

      August 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      I find that it only gives a hint of coconut flavor, but not very much. Really, the oil in most baked good recipes is such a small portion of the overall ingredients that any added berries would overshadow the coconut. Chocolate, too. But if the smell bothers you then hold your nose when you open the jar, because the oil itself smells strong. Yummy to me but maybe not to you.

    • Mir Kamin

      August 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      In my experience it depends greatly on the brand. Nutiva coconut oil tastes like coconut (which I like; I like coconut), but I recently bought some Jarrow coconut oil (better price at the time) and it tastes much less like coconut. Both claim to be “extra virgin” so I’m not sure why they’re different.

  • autumn

    August 13, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    String Cheese! 

    I’m a big fan of bean dips, hummus, etc.  If it goes down with veggies, great.  Pita chips, fine.  Heck, even a few tortilla chips okay.  I make a black bean dip which doesn’t last long.  Basically a can of black beans/home cooked equivalent, half a cup of salsa, juice of one lime, some garlic, hot sauce to taste, blend.  It also makes a good burrito filling, kinda a twist on refried beans.  

    I also like fried tofu as a snack (or topping for thai style noodles).  Basically I drain and press a brick of tofu, slice it up and stir fry it with some oil in either my wok if it’s out our a regular skillet until the edges are crispy.   Season it up, and YUM!  brush a bit of marinade on the slices before cooking if you have time, and even better

  • Hi, I'm Natalie.

    August 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    Chickpea flour (besan) is also great for muffins/waffles/breads – I usually use 1/3 besan and 2/3 whole wheat flour in flour-based recipes.

    My family’s FAVOURITE sneaky food is cottage cheese waffles – they have tons of egg/cottage cheese in them, and are even better with the besan/whole wheat flour substitutions. The first time I made them, I didn’t tell my husband what was in them – he went back for a third helping from what I remember. They’re also great as day-after snacks for the wee ones. I use this recipe as my basic recipe:

  • Nancy

    August 13, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    My family’s new favorite protein is quinoa pasta.
    My daughter (an amazing eater for her 4 years) does not like avocado either and is not a fan of quinoa typically but as a noodle anything goes.

    • Mir Kamin

      August 14, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Can you recommend a specific brand, Nancy? I’ve been through all of the non-wheat pastas, seems like, and although I love quinoa in its natural form, the quinoa pasta I tried was awful (second only to corn pasta, ,which was somehow lumpy and mushy at the same time). Maybe I had the wrong brand; I’m willing to try again!

      • Wendy

        August 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm

        I really like the Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta.  I typically do not like rice pastas as they tend to get mushy.  As a vegetarian for 14 years who had to eliminate gluten three years ago, I (and my family) can sympathize with trying to find good, nutritious food for a restricted diet.  Eating out can be very challenging!  Does your family like hummus?  Homemade hummus with veggies or tortilla chips is always a popular high-protein snack at our house.

        • Mir Kamin

          August 15, 2013 at 11:44 am

          I’ll have to try that one, thanks.

          I love hummus but my daughter recently stopped eating it. It’s been retired from the rotation for now and we’ll try it again in a few months. (We had some limited success with baba ghanoush while our garden eggplant was going nuts, but she won’t eat that now, either.)

  • kimi

    August 15, 2013 at 1:29 am

    This was a good article for me to read; I’ve been getting lazy lately.

    My 3 year old used to eat anything that we put in front of him with 6 exceptions. Lately he’s been trying to be picky so I should look for ways to make his snacks healthier. My husband wants healthy snacks for his own lunches too. So thanks for the suggestions.

    (Although we’re currently safe because the three year old will eat anything if I tell him he will like it when he’s older).

  • meredith

    August 15, 2013 at 7:03 am

    Chia seeds have been a good surprise as my pickiest-eating daughter actually likes them and will let me put them on about everything. Her cousin got her to try them (easier coming from another kid I guess).