A study from the University of Minnesota found that teens who ate a high quality diet were less likely to become obese as adults.  It specifically tracked 15 year-olds at age 20 and again at age 25. They found the relationship of a quality food diet to optimal weight to be independent of how much they ate, and whether or not they exercised or smoked cigarettes.

So what is this quality diet they are referring to?  Turns out it is similar to a Mediterranean diet, which includes more of these ingredients: nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, tea and coffee; and eat less of these: salty snacks, soft drinks, sweet breads, grain desserts, red meat, and whole fat dairy.

Note that there isn’t one particular food or macronutrient (fat, protein, or carbs) that is thought to be the cause of a healthier weight, it is the overall pattern.  Starting that pattern with young people, and reinforcing it in teenagers is the perfect approach.  As teens, they may have grown out of the ‘picky eater’ phase of younger childhood, and as parents of teens are well aware, they are firmly establishing their views and ideas on many different aspects of life.

The physical and emotional growth that teens experience can even exceed the rate that occurs during infancy. Bones continue to grow, their reproductive organs mature and hormones rapidly fluctuate. The psychosocial growth and maturity that takes place during this time is immense. All of this growth and change needs fuel to support it. Sadly, many teen diets consist mostly of the items in the ‘eat less of this’ list. Remember that it isn’t a ‘don’t eat any of this’ list, it’s just that if these are the main components of the diet, it is unlikely that all their nutrient needs will be met.

Where to start? Maybe your teen eats plenty of protein already, or loves to snack on fruit.  A great place to start, where many teens as well as adults are lacking and which can make a big impact due to the high amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber is to include more vegetables.  Time and time again, eating more vegetables is associated with the best health outcomes.  And, there are so many ways to add them. Teens and tweens should eat 3+ cups of vegetables every day. This is actually almost to the 5-cup recommendation for adults, so start incorporating them now to support healthy habits throughout their lifetimes.

Here are a few ideas:

Breakfast

  • Add 1 cup of spinach to a berry/banana smoothie
  • Saute sliced zucchini or kale into an omelette
  • Grate sweet potato and mix into pancake batter or grate carrot and add to shredded cheese in a quesadilla
  • Mix in greens and onions to scrambled eggs and bake in muffin tins

Lunch (a thermos can help keep the chili and pasta warm at school)

  • Veggie chili with red peppers, carrots, tomato
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and mixed vegetables: spinach, kale, celery, zucchini etc.
  • Sandwiches or wraps made with whole wheat tortillas or rice paper wrappers or lettuce, filled with cucumber, mint, cilantro, avocado, carrots, along with chicken or turkey

Dinner  

  • Roasted vegetables just might win over the non-veggie lover. Just add olive oil and salt to any veg: kale, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, green beans, asparagus.  Add spices like cumin, curry powder or coriander; herbs like oregano, thyme and rosemary. Roast at 375 until veggies are tender.
  • Make a blended soup. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil, add any chopped vegetables you have in your fridge. Cover with vegetable or chicken stock and simmer until tender.  Blend it up, add salt and pepper and you just might get in that whole allotment of veggies in one sitting.

 

Written by Kathy C, Bastyr University student intern

References

  1. “All About The Vegetable Group”. Choose MyPlate. N.p., 2017. Web. 12 May 2017.
  2. Brown, Judith. Nutrition Through the Lifecycle. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2014. Print
  3. Hu, Tian et al. “Higher Diet Quality In Adolescence And Dietary Improvements Are Related To Less Weight Gain During The Transition From Adolescence To Adulthood”. The Journal of Pediatrics 178 (2016): 188-193.e3. Web.
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