Few of us would ever deny that the teenage years are tumultuous. But once we’ve put sufficient years between them and our present, they start to shine in a different light. And that light is mostly couched in awe. Awe derived from a newfound appreciation for the remarkable lifestyle we effortlessly sustained during this brief yet impactful period of life.
I realize what I’m about to say isn’t necessarily true for everyone, and it’s typically truer for males than females, but overall we could eat a hell of a lot more food in those teen years. If my experience is any barometer, an active teenage boy is able to consume as much of pretty much any ingestible substance he desires and be none the worse for doing so. Oh he might years down the road, but at the time, it’s a full on junk food orgy outside a crack house with no birth control or background checks.
I Probably Should Be Dead
Look, I would hardly be shocked if the years of chronic fatigue and Sarcoidosis and god knows what else that ails my body, or will in the future, was all natural retribution for the astonishing diet I subsisted on during my teen years. I’m not proud of this diet but I’ve got to be honest, I can’t help but giggle at it before grimly shaking my head. In some ways it’s amazing my current ills are all I suffer. Frankly, there’s a reasonable enough argument to be made that I should be dead. Incredibly well preserved, mind you, but dead.
The problem for any energetic, growing teenage male, aside from impatience and a sense of immortality, is that our caloric requirements are so vast. In my case, I was playing competitive sports (hockey), working a part time job (retail hardware store), mowing field-sized lawns, and, well, growing. Let not these spindly arms deceive you. They require biologic energy to create too.
There was also the overwhelming hormonal influx and associated fantasizing about a great number of female classmates, celebrities, and, umm, magazine headliners. Trust me, those fantasies alone can be mentally, and (cough) physically, exhausting. The teen years are hard on a lad and they require constant fueling to keep up with the rigours of becoming a man.
And what better source of plentiful calories is there than processed food. With a body utilizing these calories as fast as they were consumed, the requirement that they be “good” calories was inconsequential. Protien, sugar and fat were staples while vegetables and fruits were relegated to condiments or garnish. Just as well considering the stubbornly finicky state of my palate. Adventuresome would never describe my eating preferences.
The Eight Cornerstones of the Teenage Diet
Alas, I cannot undo the past. My bed is made and I must lie, with daily discomfort, in it. I hereby present for your reading pleasure and gastronomical apprehension a short but comprehensive list of the eight foods I regularly ate during my teenage (especially high school) years. Laugh at them or cringe at them but above all heed the warning that my current state of health makes about them. If my body is a temple, it is a dilapidated Incan temple slowly but surely being lost to history in the remote Amazonian jungle.
1) Jos Louis and Chocolate Milk
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I couldn’t have agreed more. What could make for a better energy infusion to kick off the school day than a Jos Louis and 500ml of chocolate milk? I purchased this for breakfast from the high school cafeteria pretty much every day of my five years there (I wasn’t an idiot, we just had Grade 13 back then). Those cream-filled chocolate cakes were beyond delicious and washing them down with rich, chocolatey milk was a no-brainer, not to mention a quality daily infusion of calcium. See, I was a bit of a health nut! And I have zero broken bones to show for it.
2) Hot Dogs
I was a finicky eater back in my youth and while health food may not have been a priority in the school cafeteria many of the choices offered weren’t much to my tastes either. The chicken burgers were okay and the mini-pizzas were fine but those weren’t on the daily menu. Hot dogs were, though. So that became my go to meal. It was edible and cheap. I would buy two hot dogs, douse them in mustard, and scarf them back in seconds. Much of my corporeal preservation predictions stem from this period.
3) Chef Boyardee
I wasn’t always at school, of course, and with access to a full kitchen my lunch requirements on weekends and especially over the summer took on a more gourmet flare. By the time I was fifteen I was working at the hardware store all summer while dad hid out at his office and my mom and sister were gone to Sauble Beach. This meant I needed to make most of my own meals. Those meals, more often than not, came out of a can with a tomato sauce coloured, red-orange label and the words “family size” printed on the side. I ate Chef Boyardee as though I was literally replenishing my lifeblood. Beefaroni was by far my favourite, but Ravioli was a reliable alternative when I wanted to shake up the monotony. Both came in a large “family size” tin which I could easily eat by myself, and did.
4) Puritan Stews
Now, I couldn’t rightly just eat pasta every day that would be ludicrous. Well, actually I could have and probably still could, but a little variety didn’t hurt and for me that variety came in the form of a different family sized can. Puritan stews were another favourite and easy to prepare meal that I ate far too regularly. There were three flavours if I recall correctly; beef, turkey, and Irish. All were delicious. And all were disgusting congealed fatty messes when you opened the can. But by the time they were heated up all that fat and grease turned into scrumptious gravy that oozed down my welcoming the throat. And hey, vegetables!
5) Cheez Whiz
I put mustard on those high school hot dogs because my favourite condiment was unavailable. But at home, there was always, and I do mean ALWAYS, a large jar of orange ambrosia available to perfect any meal needing a help up. Until I was in my twenties, Cheez Whiz was without doubt my favourite and almost exclusive condiment. I put that shit on everything. Bologna sandwich? Cheez Whiz. Hamburger? Cheez Whiz. Hot Dog? Cheez Whiz. Fishwich? Cheez Whiz. Baked wieners? Cheez Whiz. Ritz crackers? Cheez Whiz. Celery?! Cheez Whiz. Toast? Cheez Whiz. Clean butter knife? Cheez Whiz. I single handedly may have kept Cheez Whiz a profitable product throughout the eighties.
6) Bulk Chocolate Fudge Cookies
Dare cookies was founded in Kitchener, Ontario, conveniently near my hometown. Even closer to my hometown was a small store that sold rejects from the Dare cookie factory. In bulk! Not all cookies come off the assembly line the same or as intended. Sometimes the tops are broken or the colouring is off in which case the cookies were of no use for sale at grocery stores. Someone got the brilliant idea to sell these rejects at a discount and I thank the great Flying Spaghetti Monster that my mother discovered this outlet store.
For many years mom regularly bought 5lb boxes of rejected but still perfectly delicious cookies. My particular favourites were Dare Ultimate Chocolate Chip and, to nobody’s shock whatsoever, Dare Ultimate Chocolate Fudge. There was always a box of those chocolate fudge cookies in the freezer and I always ate handfuls of them daily. I’m talking dozens of cookies, here. Frozen chocolate fudge cookies are my meth and I had no desire to get clean! Honestly, the only reason I stopped eating these is because I moved away from home and no longer had access to them. This is also the primary reason why I can never move back home. Ever.
7) Beer and Liquor
Oh come on, don’t be such a prude. You knew this was going to make a cameo appearance on any list of teenage bodily abuse. You’ll be happy to know I didn’t start until 17, so I’m not as terrible as some. Long weekends were made for beer and beer was made for long weekends. When you’re in your teens a couple boxes of Kraft Dinner, a bag of Oreos and a couple two-fours of beer is all you need to survive those three day holiday debaucheries. What’s even more incredible is that not only do you survive but you readily look forward to doing it again the next long weekend. This resiliency and welcoming of self-abuse abates dramatically with age. Currently I’m still recovering from a stag I attended eight years ago.
By the time I was nineteen and legally able to purchase and consume alcohol in Ontario, beer and liquor (most often in the form of disturbing combinations lovingly referred to as shooters) was my primary source of sustenance on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights while pining for unattainable girls in the bars. Actual food was only begrudgingly consumed after closing time in order to provide a stomach sponge for the booze. Wendy’s late night drive-through window exists for a reason.
8) Kraft Dinner
And of course, in between all of the above was lots and lots of this staple but that’s hardly unexpected or even strange. Everyone eats lots of KD. It is no accident so many time-honoured university diet quips are based on it. Whether at the campground or on a quick lunch break, a box of orange chemicals slathered over the lamest pasta imaginable is sure to hit the spot. Unlike almost all the other meals mentioned here, this is one I still enjoy to this day, enjoying a box in secret solitude when home alone or along with my kids when there is no school. In fact, I just ate one now while editing this post. I’ll keep them ignorant of the other travesties of my dietary history as long as humanly possible.
And that, folks, is how you build a sterling human male physique; lots and lots of empty calories and intestinal abuse. It will deteriorate at an ever-quickening pace by age 30 and lead to years of discomfort, pain, and decrepitude but before that, oh baby, it fashions greatness!