Many people lack a general understanding of nutrition, and it may be useful for practioners to get a clear idea of the basic concepts in order to communicate them effectively to young people. There are vast quantities of written information about food and nutrition, but as any cook will tell you, doing it is the best way to learn.
Modeling Conversation about nutrition may come more naturally when a practitioner and young person eat a meal together, even if it is takeaway. The practitioner can explain why they make their food choices and how they experiences benefits from that (eg. increased energy, improved sleep, stable weight).
Education This can be done as simply or detailed as is suited to the young person. A guide to nutrition and practical food skills was developed by YSAS in 2009, and is linked on this page. Topics that may be relevant to the young person could include:
Regular meals & metabolism (including dieting)
- Protein / carbs/ fruit & vegies
- Portion size / energy needs
- Meal planning
- ‘One Healthy habit’ a day
Working together with one young person, or in a small group, practioners can support and guide young people to undertake activities such as:
- Planning meals & budget for food
- Shopping (including markets where fresh ingredients are cheaper)
- Going home and unpacking the groceries
- Kitchen basics such as utensils and terminology in recipes (youtube.com can be a great resource for learning new recipes)
- Preparing & cooking meals
- Getting to know preferences & trying out new tastes
- Cleaning up & then taking it easy!
Vitamins and minerals are not the only healthy aspect of eating that can be lost when a young persons self care is neglected. Relational aspects of eating and preparing food can also be lost. Consider creating opportunities for young people to share food, offer (not just receive) hospitality to celebrate cooking achievements.
It was the most celebrated lasagna in the history of the day program. Planned for days, prepared over hours and talked about for months the lasagna was almost as good as the one Jacks Grandma used to make. That was before she passed away and he ended up in state care. He never imagined he would eat homemade lasagna again, let alone cook it himself! That was until his worker challenged him to operation lasagna ‘I’ll teach you how to make it but you have to do all the prep and help clean up!’. Now all the staff and young people were sitting around the big kitchen table burning their lips on scorching cheese. Even the manager had come out of her office for a taste.
Note 1: where a practitioner is concerned about disordered eating (such as binge-eating, purging or deliberate starvation) in a young person, or problematic body image, further information and advice should be sought. Eating Disorders Victoria has comprehensive online resource. Check out these helpful fact sheets or call the Eating Disorders Helpline. Centre for Excellence in Eating Disorders CEED Provides clinical consultation and training for health professionals treating individuals with eating disorders.
Note 2: Specialist nutritional advice may be sought (e.g. Community Health Centre) for young people taking anti-psychotic medications as these can interfere in the normal metabolic processes, and can inhibit feelings of hunger / fullness. This should be considered in partnership with the young person and their treating doctors / psychiatrist and / or mental health care team.