If anyone has had or currently has teenagers, they may have come to believe that they have a second occupation purely dedicated to meeting their nutritional needs and demands. I cannot express my sincere joy when I pick up my boys from school and the first thing I am greeted with is, “what is for afternoon tea? “Closely followed by “what is for dinner?” It appears that all other greetings and concerns are not relevant until we can assure them that they are going to be fed. I am certain that my fridge will soon die due to its best customers constantly opening the door to see what else they can devour.
Many parents will come to me and say “I just can’t seem to fill them up!” This is a common cry from parents who appear to be at a loss in understanding how best to feed their rapidly growing teens without succumbing to endless amounts of junk food.
It is more important now in their teens to try and manage their diet as their growth, cognitive function, mood and skin will depend on how well they eat. It may feel as they have the freedom to manage their diet but they do not have the understanding of how better they will be if they learn to control their eating patterns. Even if they do get hot chips on the way home, the food on the table and in the fridge is still most important.
Tips on Teen Nutrition
CARBOHYDRATES: as parents we might be on a mission to keep our carbs lean but our teens without a doubt need them. Carbohydrates are the prime source of easily available energy for teens and for athletic teens or simply busy teens they need adequate serves of carbohydrates. This however is best provided in complex carbohydrates rather than over refined and process carbs. Consider roasted root vegetables, sourdough bread, pasta with homemade sauce, rice with protein, and legumes. To get the best out of carbs so they are not eating a loaf of bread or a bathtub of pasta always combine carbs with protein and good fats to make them last longer and fill them up. Consider beef ragout pasta, chicken curry with rice, sourdough with scrabbled eggs. The combinations are sustaining and delicious.
A special note for parents who have teen girls who are cutting out carbs to lose weight: the correct balance of carbs, protein and fats are required for the development of female hormones. The absence of carbs can result in amenorrhea in developing females.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS: good fats are so important for teens, they support everything from their hormones, their skin health and their cognitive function. Best sources of essential fatty acids for teens include: oily fish, eggs, olive oil, chia seeds, flaxseeds, nut spreads and hemp protein. As some of these foods are not always appealing to teens or the jokes on hemp are just too “dopey”, a fish oil supplement is always a good idea.
PROTEIN: is essential for teens to reduce their sugar cravings and assist their bodies to grow and repair. Without adequate protein teens will constantly graze on refined carbs and sugary snacks. Protein in conjunction with fats give teens more satiety so they can get through their busy schedules. For athletic teens they will require an additional protein to aid their muscle recovery. Planning meals around athletic teens needs is recommended to improve their performance and maintain their wellbeing. The best way to increase teens protein intake is simply just cook additional portions. For example you may roast a second chicken, the purpose is to have some on hand for lunch or afternoon tea the next few days. If you have a particularly ravenous teen, you may need to explain that the whole chicken is not just for them!
Athletic teens may benefit from a protein shake, this can help during hectic training sessions. Please ask a nutritionist about the best one to suit your child. Protein powders prescribed for teens should not be “body building or diet” shakes and they certainly should not replace a balanced diet.
VEGETABLES: most parents would hope by the time their children hit adolescents they would come to accept everything that you put on the plate. Unfortunately for many vegetable resistances may continue through their teen years. This is problematic as vegetable offer so much to support adolescent wellbeing. Vegetables are mostly more alkaline; this supports skin healing and reduces acne flare ups. Vegetables are full of fibre which helps reduce obesity. Vegetables are bursting with beta carotenes that support the immune system, vision and digestive health.
SNACKING: for many parents it is the constant demand for snacks that really drives them mad. Snacking is both habitual time waster and dietary need. To help support the dietary need for snacking, remember this does allow you to not have to serve dinner at 5:30, having the right kind of snacks available is important. If you do have chips, biscuits, sweets and icecream available, they need to understand that once they are gone you are not rushing to replenish the stocks.
It is not out of the ordinary for a teen to have what we would consider a second lunch in the afternoon. Especially if they have training and will not be eating until later. The best way to manage this is have leftovers in the freezer or fridge.
Teaching teens to make an omelette, heat up soup or make a bacon, avocado and lettuce roll in the afternoon is really a good practice. Busy kids need good snacks, not junk.
If you believe the snacking is out of boredom, don’t feel you can’t correct it. Encourage them to get out and get active. As parents we need to teach them a healthy relationship with food. Allowing them to sit on the lounge, playing games and polishing off a large packet of chips is not what teenagers or adults need.
PORTIONS: growing teens naturally do eat more than adults; their growth and physical activity should demand more intake. However, they should not be encouraged to gorge, this is often a habit of teens and it can cause a binge cycle later in life. Teens do need to understand portions, meal timing and consideration for others. Yes, is anyone else hoping to have dinner?
SUPPLEMENTS AND TEENS: depending on the teens diet, mood and physical demands I do believe that supplementation can benefit adolescents. However, it should be specifically prescribed, I don’t think that every teen needs zinc, but some certainly do. Most will benefit from fish oil, but how much? Magnesium is amazing for teens but if you give them a cheap form of magnesium, they might be late to school as they are stuck in the bathroom.
The most common supplements that I prescribe to teens are:
Magnesium: supports growth and development of the muscular skeletal systems. Magnesium can reduce “sethers” and growth cramps. Magnesium can help anxious teens as it works on regulating the nervous system, it can be vital in supporting sleep quality. Magnesium for teen girls can reduce menstrual cramping.
Fish Oil (EPA/DHA): the EPA portion of fish oil supports adolescent inflammation; this can relate to physical activity or growth pains. EPA in fish oil is beneficial for reducing acne and eczema. The DHA portion of fish oil supports the cognitive function. In adolescents DHA is not just useful for their academic output but for their overall mental wellbeing.
Probiotics: different strains of probiotics work for different conditions. I do more so for adolescents prescribe probiotics to assist in managing skin conditions. Probiotics can long term also reduce absence from school. And that is the last thing any teen wants, a day off school!
Zinc with Vitamin C: zinc and vitamin C together are beneficial for the immune system and reducing the severity of acne. Zinc is additionally value for balancing out any hormonal issues and supporting healthy mood. Unfortunately I cannot guarantee zinc alone will turn their frown upside down.
If you have any concerns regarding your teens nutrition and are considering supplementing please consider consulting a nutritionist as they can balance the primary need of a balance diet and the additional support of a supplement.