The adolescent years are a key period for learning independence and responsibility. This can also extend to food choice. Research has shown Irish teenagers are getting too many calories and too much fat from foods such as cakes, biscuits, savoury snacks, chocolates and confectionary, while their intake of fruit and vegetables is less than half of the recommended 5 a day. Unhealthy food choices can put teenagers at increased risk of gaining excess weight and developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes down the line. On top of this, unlike previous generations, today’s teens are more likely to live an inactive lifestyle, with much of the day spent sitting at a school desk or in the car or bus rather than being active.
So what can parents do to help? Quite simply, a lot! As parents, you may have a greater influence on your teen’s diet than you realise. You buy and prepare much of the food that your teen eats at home, and maybe even in school. This gives you an ideal opportunity to act as a positive role model when it comes to making healthy, nutritious food choices.
Tips to Keep your Teens in Tip Top Shape
1. Choose nutritious snacks without the excess calories
Rapid growth during the teenage years means that the body requires extra calories as well as key nutrients for growth such as calcium and iron. Teenage boys often report that they are hungry one hour after eating a meal. Now you know why your fridge is always empty! It is important that this increase in appetite is satisfied by healthy nutritious meals and snacks that will support growth and development, rather than high fat or high sugar foods that can promote excess weight gain. Choose some snack ideas from the box below to ensure that your teen is getting the nutrients they need without the excess calories.
- Healthy snacks to satisfy a growing teen
- Fruit (Fresh, Tinned, or Dried)
- Sandwiches with meat, fish, egg or hummus & salad fillings
- Toast or crackers with peanut butter or low fat cheese
- Home-made popcorn
- Plain or flavoured low fat milk or low fat yogurt drinks
- Plain or flavoured low fat yogurt
- Cereal with low fat milk (some cereals add iron and calcium to help your teenager to get their daily need)
- Cereal bars
2. Never skip breakfast
The appeal of getting an extra couple of minutes in bed can mean that many teenagers skip breakfast. Encouraging your teen to take 5 minutes to grab a quick healthy breakfast will not only help your teen to get the nutrients that they need for growth but could also improve their concentration. A win-win situation!
Reasons why breakfast is worth getting out of bed for..
Breakfast is fuel for the body – Breakfast is quite literally a break from fasting. It is therefore important that your teen takes this time to fuel the body in order to function properly during the day.
Breakfast is important for growth and development – Growth and development rely heavily on regular intake of food to nourish the body and ensure healthy development. Teens who skip breakfast could end up going for long periods of time without food which can have adverse effects on their physical, behavioural and intellectual wellbeing.
Breakfast improves concentration – Those who eat breakfast tend to be more focused than those who skip breakfast.
Breakfast helps with maintaining a healthy weight – Those who skip breakfast tend to eat more later on in the day.
3. Pack goodness into those packed lunches!
When it comes to shopping for packed lunches, it may be tempting to choose more accessible foods such as crisps and chocolate over fruit and yoghurt. To make a healthier lunch, you don’t need to reduce the amount of food, just try to substitute some of the foods for healthier options. When making a sandwich, use wholegrain bread and reduced fat spreads or relish rather than butter and mayonnaise. Swap fizzy drinks with healthier options such as milk, water or no added sugar dilutable squash.
Below are a couple of tips that can be introduced to your teen’s diet which will improve the way they eat. These can benefit not only your teen but the whole family. By helping your teenager make healthier choices, you are providing them with the tools to make healthier decisions in adulthood.
If you’re concerned about your teen’s weight, you might be interested to learn about the ‘Teen Nutrition Study’ which was launched earlier this year by Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. This is a free 8-week study, designed by nutritional experts and is the first of its kind to be run in Ireland. The aim of the study is to look at the affect a novel nutritional approach has on teen health. Overweight teens who take part in the study will take a nutritional supplement as well as follow a healthy eating plan. The goal of the study is to combat some of the problems that are associated with carrying extra weight.
This exciting study is now calling for new participants aged between 13 and 18 years of age to take part. If you are not sure if your teen is eligible, please call the study team who can quickly work it out for you.
Interested teens or parents can call Aoibheann at 086 7213854 or email firstname.lastname@example.org further details. More information can also be found on the study website www.medicine.tcd.ie/nutrition-dietetics/teenstudy. Participation is free and the study is funded by the National Children’s Research Centre.