School’s back for another year and after a sun-filled long summer it’s time to look at getting my teens ready for the winter months, dark nights, exams, raging hormones and growth spurts ahead. I currently have 3 boys, 17, 14, 12 in secondary school and my daughter is in 5th class aged 10.
Good balanced nutrition is essential leading up to and during the teen years. At this age, your children can be very easily influenced, by basically everyone except the hand that feeds them. For instance, my boys like to go to the gym, lift weights and do teen circuit classes. They then go online and see adds for sugar laden snacks and energy drinks and believe that this is what I need to buy them, because, “like... look at the guy in the add. He’s built”! Here’s where I spend a bit of time (and a lot of patience) explaining to them that this is just good marketing. What they really need to maintain their energy, concentration, health and fitness is a balanced diet of proteins, low-medium GI carbs, vitamins, minerals and calcium. They look at me at this point like I’m a ‘total aul one’ so I simplify it by saying, “you need to eat unprocessed meats like – chicken, turkey, beef, salmon, fish and eggs - lots of eggs – not burgers, sausage rolls or chicken fillet rolls. Cut out the white bread and pastas. Drop the sugary cereals.
To my delight and the delight of my purse, they’ve gotten into the routine over the summer of making ‘proats’ for themselves the night before. There’s also a thing in my house where with every sandwich or dinner you add something green such as lettuce, spinach or even frozen peas to a homemade bolognaise. They are old enough now for me to explain that salad and veg is full of vitamins and minerals, the exact ones they need for the clear skin and hair that they want as well as keeping their immune system healthy. I have always tried to teach them that as well as being very enjoyable, food is fuel and you need to feed your body the best that you can.
As they navigate through puberty, specific nutrients of importance are:
• Iron – for rapid growth and expanding blood volume and muscle mass. This is a particularly important mineral for young / teenage girls as they approach menstruation. Good sources of iron include, beans, lentils, nuts, dried fruits, raisins, fortified milk, spinach and broccoli.
• Calcium – for the formation and density of healthy bones and teeth. Good sources include milk, yoghurt, broccoli, cheese, salmon, beans, oranges, spinach, nuts, chia seeds.
• Magnesium – for growing muscles, nerves and bones – especially good for ‘growing pains’ and muscle twitching. Good sources of magnesium include, bananas, almonds, dark chocolate, cashews, pumpkin seeds, brown rice, leafy greens, avocado, yoghurt, peanuts, broccoli and chia seeds.
• Protein – for growth and to keep muscles healthy. Good sources include: lean meat, fish, turkey, chicken, eggs, nuts and tofu.
• Vitamin D – for healthy bones, teeth, muscle, immune system and connective tissue. Good sources of vitamin D include, eggs, milk, salmon, cod liver oil, cheese, orange juice, fortified milk, tuna, yoghurt and sunshine!
It’s normal during teenage growth spurts for them to be hungry every 2 hours. However, the hunger gap is often too easily filled with high sugar refined junk food. I think it’s really important to educate your children here, on portion sizes and balance. It’s also my job to have the right food and snacks available for them, because let’s face it, when a teenage boy is hungry he needs to be fed “asap”. If there is no healthier alternative available they will dive on the biscuit press. The fundamental reason for starting my business was that I made snacks and brought them everywhere with me for my children. If you’ve ever been out with children at an appointment or shopping and time ran over and you’ve no food with you, you’ll know what I mean. I was never a fan of grabbing something sugary and convenient to pacify their hunger because that in itself caused problems – such as 4 small kids in the back of the car hyped up on sugar. So in the house these days here are some of the snacks we always have stocked:
• Pure peanut butter / seeded or brown bagels – protein and good carb combined, this snack can help keep your teen fuller for longer and help stabilise blood sugars.
• Fruit and Yoghurt – chopped apple, pineapple or banana with a good quality reduced sugar yoghurt or natural yoghurt can contain vitamins, minerals, pro-biotics and protein.
• Protein and Energy Balls - you can make these with very few ingredients, nut or oat based and we have ‘make at home kits’ available on our store which are really handy too (all the fun is in the rolling). There are also millions of recipes online.
• Trail Mix – nuts are literally a powerhouse of nutrition, they can provide good fats, protein and macro nutrients and can help with brain development and heart health.
• Egg salad – a few boiled eggs, some chopped tomato and a small amount of mayo. My family love this on a few crackers or brown bread. Highly nutritious and affordable.
• Beans on Toast – come on – is there anything better sometimes? Easy for the teens to make themselves, great source of protein and fibre – go for the reduced sugar beans and enjoy on brown bread.
• Cheese and crackers – ideal snack, source of protein and calcium and easy to have in the school or after school bag too.
• Dark Chocolate / raisins – sometimes only something sweet will do so try swapping out sugary milk chocolate or sweets for a fruit / dark chocolate combo.
• Soup – a cup of soup is a life saver sometimes to get from one meal to the next and it won’t spoil any appetites for dinner.
There is so much they need to learn, but we need to talk to our teenagers about how food can help them to feel better, educate them on what a healthy and balanced diet is, and teach them how to cook, start off small with something like beans on toast or an omelette. As a busy parent we often think ‘it’s quicker if I make it for them’, but this can’t always be the case and they need to learn for themselves. Get them involved in making the things they like. Bolognaise or grilled fish / chicken and potatoes can be easy enough to try.
Something else I need to mention here, in particular to teens is the need for quality sleep. Downtime, no screens 2 hours before bed. This causes all kinds of moaning and giving out in my house, but I stick to my guns and tell my teens that its “ok to feel bored sometimes or you can entertain yourself with a book or some music”. It doesn’t win me any brownie points but I’m fine with that! Getting some form of exercise every day is also essential to help them sleep. Even a quick walk and that little bit of fresh air makes a huge difference.
And finally, whenever the window of opportunity presents itself, chat with them, have the ‘bants’ and listen to what they have to say, who knows, we might learn something from them!
If there are any specific areas of teen nutrition or advice that you would like just get in touch below.