These years can often be turbulent, with the pressures of school and a busy social life. This is why it’s crucial for teenagers to eat a balanced diet, including healthy snacks that focus on whole foods. Here’s a guide to healthy snacks for teenagers that support body, mind and hormone development.
Good Nutrition During Teenage Years Sets A Healthy Tone For Life
Most parents understand that encouraging their children to eat well is incredibly important for their overall health. However, once kids hit their teens, their growth and development seem to skyrocket. So too do their nutritional needs. Some parents swear their children grow a foot taller overnight and it can seem impossible to keep them out of the fridge.
There are high nutritional demands for all the major minerals like iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium. There’s also an increased need for healthy fats, proteins and quality carbs. Growth hormones kick in, reproductive hormones fire up, and the brain is developing at warp speed. Nutrient deficiencies during this critical growth period can impact sexual development, physical growth and cognitive function. Helping teens understand how important it is to nurture themselves with good food will empower them to make better choices.
Social Pressures & Eating Patterns in Teenagers
The teenage years are the years for risk-taking and boundary-pushing. There’s no denying it. It’s an important and normal developmental behaviour for teens to push back against parents, as they forge an identity for themselves in the world. This can be true in so many social settings, but here we’ll focus on food choices. It’s common for many teens to experiment with different diets, like vegetarianism, or go through periods of eating or not eating certain foods. If any behaviours seem worrisome, such as restrictive eating, it’s always good to consult the advice of a trusted health provider.
We as humans are social creatures. We want to fit in and we crave acceptance in a group. This behaviour is perhaps the most prominently highlighted in teenagers. A study by Cruwys et al. (2015) found that a major determinant of human eating behaviour in teens is social modelling. This means teenagers (and adults too) typically follow others’ eating patterns as a guide for our own.
Unfortunately, the social pressures and influence of advertising from companies that push discretionary foods and energy drinks can negatively impact teenage health outcomes. Eating poorly and bombarding the body with chemicals can impair the brain, fertility and metabolic health later in life.
As if peer influence isn’t enough of a barrier to making healthy snack choices, the impact of stress adds to the issue. Stress can influence eating patterns and vice versa. This is true for teenagers as well as young children. In fact, in a meta-analysis reviewing over 28000 children up to the age of 18, stress has been associated with altered eating behaviours in children as young as 8 years old. This shows that children of all ages are at risk of stress-related eating behaviours, which is something not to be overlooked.
Unhealthy snacks that are low in nutrient value are associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and complex health conditions across the lifespan. We know that the stresses of being a school or university student already create roadblocks to healthy dietary behaviours. Snacks that boost concentration and focus are therefore hugely important.
Helping teens establish healthy eating patterns, and a healthy relationship with food early on will support them for years to come.
How To Build Healthy Snack Habits for Teenagers
Snacking is almost certainly the preferred eating method of many teenagers’ diets. In fact, over 80% of teenagers snack throughout the day compared to eating full meals. While this behavioural pattern could be due to many things, it’s an important point to consider. Of course, eating properly at breakfast, lunch and dinner is important for everyone, including teenagers. However, this drives home the importance of why healthy snacks should be a part of every teenage diet.
So what constitutes a healthy snack for a teenager?
Well, ideally the same healthy snack the rest of the family is having. It may just be that teenagers need to eat more, depending on their needs at the time. Eating healthy snacks can also help reduce the number of unhealthy snacks that a teen eats throughout the week (we can hope).
Creating Balanced Snacks For Teens
Focus on quality protein from natural animal and plant sources, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Emulating a whole foods macronutrient balanced diet or Mediterranean-style diet are great foundations for healthy snacking.
Carbohydrates are used for muscle energy and brain function. For highly active teens, both mentally and physically, eating enough carbohydrates helps to stay energised all day long. Examples of healthy carbohydrates are whole grains, nuts, nut butter, seeds, root vegetables, dried fruit and fresh fruit.
Protein helps maintain a healthy immune system and supports muscle growth. Quality protein from meat sources also repletes minerals like iron and zinc, which help regulate hormones. Importantly, protein supports neurotransmitter synthesis as well. Serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and melatonin formation all depend on getting enough protein in the diet. These brain chemicals help with motivation, focus and relaxation. Examples of healthy protein sources include meat, seafood, nuts, hemp seeds, legumes and pulses.
Finally, healthy fats are just as important as any other macronutrient. It’s actually the only macronutrient group that stimulates the release of the ‘full feeling’ hormone, leptin, which tells your body you’ve eaten enough. This matters a great deal when it comes to snacking to help avoid overeating. Examples of healthy fats include avocado, olives, yoghurt, cheese, butter and coconut milk.
Keep Simple & Nourishing Options On Hand
When we’re hungry, our decision-making and judgement are impaired. This is true for adults, and we’re supposed to have a fully developed forebrain! It’s easy to see, then, how teenagers can come unstuck, grabbing the quickest and often less healthy snack available. This is why it’s a good idea to be well stocked at home with healthy snacks to eliminate the risk of your teen making poor food choices.
Most teenagers will raid the fridge or pantry after coming home from a demanding day at school. Keep afternoon snacks simple but filling for your hungry teenager. Healthy dips and crackers, bliss balls, homemade muesli bars, or 2 boiled eggs are great options. If you have an athletic teen, you already know the importance of keeping them fuelled and ready to go. A banana, a few cheese slices or a handful of nuts are ideal before training. Replenish with protein-rich snacks, smoothies and of course, water.
Tips to make easy and healthy snacks for teens
- Make the most of your blender for a quick and satisfying healthy smoothie, any time of the day.
- Make any sweet thing delicious, by adding cacao and reap the health benefits.
- A tried and trusted trail mix never fails to provide a good balance of nutrients, whenever your teen feels snacky.
- Nuts and seeds on their own are incredibly good for supporting hormones and brain health.
- It’s so easy to forget how important water is for our health, so make sure your teens are staying hydrated!
Get Your Teen Involved in the kitchen
This point couldn’t be more overstated. One of the best ways to promote healthy snack habits that last a lifetime is to get your teen involved with food prep. In fact, getting the whole family involved is even better.
Kids need to learn about healthy eating and how to prepare food for themselves at some point in their lives. In my view, it should start in the home. Knowing how to nourish yourself, and support your brain and body using food, is a basic life skill that everyone should learn.
It’s true that life is busy and we are all time-poor. However, it’s a worthwhile investment for parents, teens and the whole family. Carve out some time, even 30 mins once a week to throw together some snacks for the coming week. Or bake something delicious and healthy that can be portioned out whenever your teen needs a snack hit.
Hemp Seed & Berry Muesli Bars
This muesli bar slice is deliciously healthy and simple to make. Instead of using flaxseed meal, you can substitute with LSA. This offers another hit of fibre, and vitamin E. Dried mulberries, blueberries and bananas add natural sweetness, more fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Even better, this recipe can be doubled for special occasions, or for extra hungry teens. Throw these muesli bars in a lunchbox, stash them in a school locker, or keep them ready on the kitchen table for after school.
They’re full of wholesome ingredients and unlike shop-bought muesli bars, there are no preservatives or added sugar. Importantly, they are loaded with much-needed carbs, good fats and protein. Everything your lovable teenager needs to keep well, supporting their brain and body.
Hemp Seed & Berry Muesli Bars
- ⅓ cup chopped dried mulberries
- ⅓ cup chopped dried blueberries
- ½ cup chopped raw cashews
- ½ cup organic peanut butter
- 2 large ripe bananas, mashed
- ⅓ cup raw sunflower seeds
- 2 tablespoons hemp seeds or hemp protein powder
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line a 20cm square baking pan with baking paper and set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together peanut butter and mashed bananas.
- Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl. With a spatula, combine well until everything resembles a very thick dough.
- Transfer the mixture to the baking pan and press firmly into the pan.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes.
- Once cooked, allow the muesli slice to cool completely in the pan before removing and cutting.
- Cut into bars or squares and store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.
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