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Does your son suffer from “Starving Boy Syndrome”?

    My 15-year-old son has a new mantra which he has been uttering more regularly and with greater frequency over the past six months. It goes like this: “There’s nothing to eat in this house and I’m starving.” It is said fiercely, accompanied by opening and shutting of the fridge and pantry doors. Neither of which are empty! Anything I offer him in the midst of his frenzied search to find something to satisfy his hunger is turned down. The only thing he seems to be sure of is that he is incredibly hungry most of the time, but does not know what to eat to make himself feel better. After a particularly demanding day recently, I realized that I had to re-evaluate his eating habits and nutrition, and take a good look at what kinds of food I was providing for him and his two younger brothers. 

   Of course, I am not the only mother to experience the “starving boy syndrome”! Recently I saw a friend (also a mother of three sons), in the grocery store, hidden behind a towering pile-high cart. She lamented to me as she pointed at her groceries, “My boys are always hungry and I only have time to cook a meal once a day.” Her way of dealing with her sons’ pleas to be fed is to buy food that can be easily heated and eaten — instant gratification! Other parents have different ways of dealing with hunger — they send their sons to the nearest deli and tell them to quit whining!

Grains for brains
   However, there is more to nourishing growing boys than merely satisfying their hunger. White Plains nutrition/health counselor (and mom) Margarita Saja is adamant that they need both fuel and nutrition from their diets. Although she hears frequently from parents that their teenage sons never seem satisfied, Saja does not feel this should be dismissed as a “normal” teenage complaint. Instead, she believes such cries are an indication the child’s diet is unbalanced. To begin to remedy this, she advises an introduction of whole grains, instead of processed flours and grains like pasta, rice, corn barley, and lentils.

First, the breakfast boost
   And we need to start putting breakfast on a pedestal; it’s the meal that sets the tone for the day and should not be a quick sugar buzz. Saja is a great advocate of turning breakfast into something savory, as opposed to sugary. Try a grilled cheese sandwich on sprouted wheat bread, but avoid processed cheese. A golden rule of good nutrition is to avoid anything processed! A peanut butter sandwich will also do the trick, or better still, use almond butter, which has more calcium and iron. Of course, the humble egg can be prepared in many different ways and is a great source of nutrients.  Not many of us make time for breakfast, but a sandwich can be prepared at night, stored in the fridge and eaten in the morning!  Cereal is simple and quick to prepare, and the best forms are whole-grain. By eating a whole grain breakfast, blood sugar is stabilized and the body is provided with fuel for energy over a longer period of time (so much more effective than over-processed sugary relatives). Unfortunately, the popular, highly advertised sugary cereals provide only a short-term release of energy, followed by a quick drop in blood sugar, which affects, among other things, the child’s mood and focus. Saja says milk should be drunk in moderation, however she advises mothers to buy organic in order to avoid adding any extra hormones to our children’s bodies via their food. The same applies to purchasing meat — try to always buy organic meat that has not been fed unnecessary amounts of hormones and antibiotics.

Snack strategies
   The growing boy will need a snack at some point, even if he is not at the point of starvation. Saja’s advice is to keep nutritious snacks handy. Pumpkin seeds are a delicious, nutty flavored snack and contain an ingredient that is important for the healthy development of the prostate gland. Accessibility and speed are key when the hunger pangs start to set in!

Protein power
   We all know the importance of protein in our growing sons’ diets, and although meat, poultry and fish are great sources, Saja suggests introducing a variety of sources of protein to our children. Think lentils, beans and nuts.

Greens goodness
   Finally, we get to the topic of greens, a food group Saja says kids need every day. “Even if you chop up a handful of parsley and sprinkle it on your meal, it is better than no green vegetable at all,” she says.  She suggests “sneaking” greens into meals if you have to; for example, make spaghetti with a pesto sauce of spinach and basil.

   The foods we’ve mentioned may be new territory for many parents, but trying them together as a family for the first time could actually turn out to be fun. Encourage your kids to participate in the grocery shopping…a little bribery may be in order? Take time to read the labels on all the “junk negative nutrition” foods they may be interested in but which will do them no good. Teach them to be educated consumers by encouraging them to Google the names of the additives and ingredients on their favorite snacks, drinks and sodas — and see what they come up with. Involve them in the preparation of the food that you’ve bought with them (girls think it’s really cool when boys cook). Teach them by example by changing your own bad eating habits and explain why certain foods are better than others. The younger the child when his nutritional education and involvement begins, the better. You will then be less likely to experience the door-slamming starving boy syndrome!

   Margarita Saja is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is affiliated with Teachers College of Columbia University, and a mother of three young children. Sugar is her pet hate; she is known for her lecture, “Sugar Blues – Learning to Kick the Sugar Addiction”.  She is also involved in campaigning to improve the quality of school lunches, and this month is hosting a documentary film dealing with this topic, Two Angry Moms, which will be shown at the Post Road Elementary School in White Plains. For more information about the film, and to learn more from Saja, visit her website:

Organic? All natural? No additives?

   To a farmer, the word “organic” means healthy soil. To most consumers, it means no pesticides.

   How do organic farmers defend their corn, spinach, etc., against pests? Among other things, they rotate crops, use plant varieties that are resistant to predators, nurture habitats for the natural enemies of pests, and release helpful bacteria.

   Here’s what organic and other terms mean legally:

Organic fruits & vegetables were grown without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or sewage sludge and haven’t been genetically engineered or irradiated.

Organic beef & chicken come from animals that weren’t the offspring of cloned animals. They were raised on 100 percent organic feed, were never given growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs, and their meat was never irradiated.

Organic milk comes from animals that, for at least the past 12 months, were fed 100 percent organic feed and weren’t given antibiotics or growth hormones like rBST.

Organic eggs come from hens that were fed 100 percent organic feed and were never given growth hormones or antibiotics.

Organic seafood doesn’t mean a thing, since the USDA hasn’t defined the term.

Cage-free eggs come from hens that were not confined to cages and that may or may not have had access to the outdoors. They’re not necessarily organic.

Free range or free roaming poultry have access to the outdoors, but for no minimum time. They’re not necessarily organic. Cage-free poultry doesn’t mean anything, since most chickens grown for meat are kept indoors (but cage-free) until they’re transported to slaughter.

No hormones administered can appear on beef labels if the producer can document that the animals were raised without hormones. Hormone-free is an illegal claim, since all animals produce their own hormones.

No antibiotics added can appear on a label if the producer can document that the animals were raised without antibiotics.

Natural (or All natural) meat or poultry products contain “no artificial ingredients and are no more than minimally processed.” They’re not necessarily organic, though some supermarkets try to make them appear to be.

Access to the outdoors. All organically raised animals are supposed to have it. Critics charge that the rules are too vague, and that animals raised in huge organic operations don’t get to move around enough outside.

Packaged Foods

100 percent Organic. All ingredients are organic.

Organic. At least 95 percent of the ingredients are organic.

Made with Organic Ingredients. At least 70 percent of the ingredients are organic.

Reprinted with permission from Nutrition Action Healthletter, a publication of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Copyright, 2007, CPSI.


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