The first step toward getting teens off junk food, says Earl Johnson, who runs the school eatery at Gordon Bell High School in Winnipeg, is to be hip to their current diets “and then find something to compensate.”
1. Talk to the kids
Find out what they like and don't like. Most kids like potatoes, for example. Instead of fries, try baked potatoes. Then, next time you serve them, add broccoli and cheese.
2. Make food attractive
Use as much colour as possible. Earl discovered that beige food, such as beef and macaroni, doesn't get too far, but kids will sidle up to the bar for offerings such as fresh mango and orange juice.
3. Find different ways of presenting fruit
It's almost impossible to get a teen to eat a whole banana, says Earl, so encourage him to add fruit to his cereal. And try making mousses or juices with fresh fruit. "Hopefully, the natural sugars in juice will get them off processed sugar, which they're almost addicted to,” says Earl. "When I first started serving fresh juices, the kids would add spoonfuls of sugar. As they got used to the fruit and fruit juices, they came off the sugar and now they drink their fruit straight."
4. Bake healthy sweets
"A lot more baking equals a lot less candy," observes Earl. "I introduced fudge blocks, for example. They're like candy but are made with granola, honey and condensed milk. I do three types: plain white, caramel and chocolate-carob."
5. Be careful what you call the food
"When I started making cookies, I called them Honey Bran Cookies," says Earl. "That name was a real turnoff, so I called them Caribbean Cookies or Lemon Surprise. Smarties were a best seller in the cafeteria, so I came up with a Smartie Cookie. Each cookie has about three Smarties. But the name is there and they can see the odd one." You have to be inventive, says Earl. "And you also have to be a little conniving."
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