A Back-to-School Nutrition Guide

I tell all my young clients (and my own kids!) that I think it’s crucial for everyone from the age of 12–20 to sit down and chat with a nutritionist at some point. Now I know I may be just a tad bit biased, but I truly believe that having a down-to-earth convo about what’s real and realistic when it comes to food, eating, and being healthful can really help sort through the daily confusion that we hear on this topic.   Since this is also an age where even the most well-intended and brilliant parent is considered less than wise by their own children, having a neutral party discuss food can often save much frustration and reduce power struggles.  Here are some suggestions written directly to your kids; this may open up some questions and conversations after they read it, but know that even if it doesn’t, you’ve helped create just a little more info for them to become their own responsible self and a more connected eater.

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Next Stop:  School!
Nutrition Tips for Middle- and High-School Success
By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

 

Voluminous —your vocab word of the day!  It also describes the amount of confusing and contradicting nutrition info that comes at you on a daily basis.  There’s just so much, how do you know what to believe?  Students are not only bombarded with social media messages about food and bodies, they are influenced by friends, parents, teachers, and coaches who each have their own individual belief and bias about nutrition and health.

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As you head back into the fast-paced routine of school, studying, and extra-curricular activities, it’s important to remember a few simple things to keep you, your body, and your brain in top-notch shape:

 

  • Avoid “diets” at all costs—not only does restricting make it harder for us to access and use our intelligence, it also leads us think more about food, taking away brainpower from other important things.
  • Include complex carbs/grains at all meals—your body is using up food at rapid pace, and it needs to eat about every 3–4 hours most days.  Grains give us immediate fuel and go straight to our brain to help us think.  In fact, carbs are the only macronutrient that feeds our brain.  Protein and fats help keep us satisfied and are also important at each meal, but they won’t give you the immediate mental or physical energy that carbs do.
  • Keep some food with you—pack some trail mix, fruit, and/or a whole grain granola bar for the times when your meal doesn’t come soon enough.  Ask your teachers if they allow food in their class, something particularly important if you’re going longer than 4-ish hours without fuel.
  • Breakfast—yes, it really does set the pace for your day!  Without it, you are more likely to feel and function unbalanced, and you may even eat more later in the day.  A pbj sandwich, yogurt parfait, or leftovers from dinner can all work for a fast, little-effort meal.   And yes, when you eat breakfast, you’ll feel a little more clearly hungry at lunch.  That is a GREAT thing, because it signals that your body is functioning just as it’s supposed to!
  • Try a new food—your taste buds are becoming more diverse at this age, and things you didn’t like earlier (green beans maybe?!) may not be so bad now.  Add your creativity to it—throw some salsa on veggies or melt a little cheese on a new-to-you protein.  And try the new food at the beginning of your meal.
  • Don’t skip meals—if you can’t stand school lunch, pack your own.  Make sure you take a few minutes to sit down for dinner.  Skipping meals will confuse your body and make you over-hungry later.  If you eat regularly, you can better know when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re just right.
  • Include some color—add some fruit and/or veggies at each meal.  Not only do they help you feel satisfied, but they also give you nutrients you can’t get from other foods.  Your whole body system is working at a crazy pace at this age and needs a greater mix of different energy, vitamins, and minerals just to keep up with you.

 

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