The relationship between health and learning is crucial now more than ever. With so many distractions, it’s important we recognize the profound impact balanced meals can have on our cognitive abilities.
The same can be said for teenagers. Adolescence is a period of rapid growth and development, both physically and mentally. The teenage brain is an organ hungry for nutrients that support memory, focus, and attention.
Teenagers often face the challenges of balancing their academic responsibilities, extracurricular activities, and social engagements, so the thought of the food choices they make may not be of top priority.
How can parents help their children make healthy food choices?
Practical tips for parents
- Discuss and educate them about brain-boosting foods that can help them in school and their extracurricular activities
- Limit the availability of processed foods and sugary snacks in the home
- Encourage regular water intake
- Provide diverse food choices
Educating children about creating a balanced diet won’t only benefit them now, but it will be that much easier for them to maintain good eating habits for the rest of their lives.
What should we be paying attention to?
Protein – The building blocks
Proteins are vital for a developing teenage brain, serving as building blocks for neurotransmitters–the messengers that transmit signals in the brain. Proteins such as turkey, chicken, fish, beans, and nuts support cognitive function which helps concentration and alertness.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The teenage brain is constantly changing and omega-3 fatty acids aid in supporting these changes. Not only this, but it also helps their ability to absorb and retain information effectively. You can find this vital supplement in healthy fats like fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, berries, oranges, eggs, and spinach.
Vitamins and minerals are essential for overall health and cognitive well-being.
- Vitamin-B Complex
This vitamin helps with sustaining energy and enhances memory, and it can be found in dark leafy greens, whole grains, eggs, and lean meats.
- Minerals such as iron and zinc
Does your teen need help increasing their attention span? Iron is an indispensable mineral that can help with fatigue and a decreased attention span. During growth spurts, teens require sufficient amounts of iron to support their physical and mental development. You can find iron in beans, fortified cereals, lean meats, and leafy greens.
On the other hand, zinc is a mineral that plays a role in memory and concentration. Your teen can add zinc to their diet through nuts, seeds, dairy, and whole grains.
It can be easy for hydration to be overlooked throughout the day, but it is critical for cognitive function. Dehydration can cause fatigue and difficulty concentrating, which can impact a student’s entire day.
Avoiding overwhelm in balanced diets
It’s easier said than done to help children see the benefits of incorporating a balanced diet into their lives but it is well worth the reward, and it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it might seem.
The main contributing factors to a balanced diet are protein, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit, and water.
We can find most nutrients we need in the food we’re already eating. Sometimes all that needs to be done is to create an awareness about what’s being eaten–this can prove to be a great learning experience for your teen.
For example, if you’re eating chicken, sweet potatoes, and broccoli for dinner, could you take a minute to explain how each of these foods is helping support your child’s overall health? With their newfound awareness, they’ll be better equipped to make healthy food choices that support their cognitive function in every aspect of their lives.
It may even put you at ease to know that a balanced diet doesn’t need to break the bank… You might even find you’re saving money by buying less of the high-processed snacks and sugary drinks that are so popular.
Gamify healthy habits with your child
Creating new habits isn’t easy, but when you have an accountability partner, it can be that much easier to accomplish something. In addition to having a partner, incorporating some kind of game can be an additional motivating factor for both you and your child.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Create a hydration chart or jar: Whenever each of you meets your water needs, add a marble, sticker, or something to the hydration chart/jar. The first who reaches their milestone by the end of the week or month wins a reward.
- Cook-off challenge: You and your teen can battle it in the kitchen and whoever’s dish is favored by the rest of the family wins!
- Grocery shopping scavenger hunt: Challenge your teen to get everything on the grocery list in under a certain amount of time (this will be fun for them and maybe even more fun for you.)
- Incorporate a hydration station: Introduce different flavored water to encourage more water intake. This could be done by infusion of fruit and herbs.
The best part about incorporating play into everyday nutritional needs is that you’re not only fostering a healthy relationship with food but also spending quality time with your child. It sounds like the best of both worlds, don’t you think?