Benefits of Good Nutrition and Meal Planning for Adolescents

Benefits of Good Nutrition and Meal Planning for Adolescents It’s no secret that our bodies rely on food to survive. We draw energy from food to power our internal organs and send nutrients from top to'…

Benefits of Good Nutrition and Meal Planning for Adolescents

It’s no secret that our bodies rely on food to survive. We draw energy from food to power our internal organs and send nutrients from top to toe. So, it makes sense that the quality and range of the food we eat will have a significant effect on how well our body functions.

There are many nutrients, such as amino acids, that we need to source from foods as we can’t produce enough ourselves. Amino acids help us to build proteins such as serotonin; a neurotransmitter (or chemical messenger) that regulates many body functions, including sleep cycles, mood, and pain perception. Low levels of serotonin can lead to fatigue, depression, insomnia and anxiety. We also need to consume proteins to help us build muscle fibre and to aid in muscle repair after lengthy activity or injury.

Carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy. Our muscles burn carbohydrates as fuel during workouts and we also store some in our muscles and liver to draw on during prolonged activity. Eating carbohydrates that take a long time to digest helps us to maintain our energy levels over a longer period. Carbohydrates that digest quickly give us short, intense bursts of energy but these are often followed by a rapid drop in energy. For example, a jam doughnut around mid-afternoon will help to wake us up, but the effects won’t last long.

Fats are another source of energy and they help us to absorb vitamins A. C, E, and K. However, they also take a long time to burn off so they build up around our organs and blood vessels which can lead to many long-term health complications.

Our bodies also need a wide range of other nutrients in the right balance to keep us working at our best. When we don’t get enough good quality nutrients in our diet, our liver, bowel, and kidneys need to work much harder to function properly. They are forced to draw energy away from other, less essential, functions like hair and skin cell regeneration. This explains why the skin and hair are often the first areas to visibly suffer in someone with poor nutrition.

Nutritional needs of adolescents

Growing bodies often have large appetites. They need plenty of complex carbohydrates for energy, proteins for muscle building, calcium for bone growth, iron to help oxygen circulate through the blood stream plus much more. The best way to fulfil these needs is by eating regular meals with a variety foods from all the food groups.

However, there are many factors that can prevent young people getting a good, nutritionally-balanced diet. These include:

Time

Many people skip meals because they are in a rush. Missing breakfast is a particular problem for children and young adults as the brain needs lots of energy to stay focused and retain information. Research has consistently shown that students who eat breakfast regularly perform better academically than those who don’t.

Convenience

Sometimes, we tend to eat the food that is easiest to access, such as the chocolate bar at the supermarket counter. Many families turn to convenience food at dinner time if they haven’t had time to shop or if the parents are exhausted at the end of a long week. Snacks and meals like these are ok to have on occasion but if they show up on the menu week after week, they can lead to issues like nutritional deficiencies and obesity.

Budget

Some people have the belief that healthy food costs more so, to save money, they choose cheap foods that often have little nutritional value, such as frozen fish fingers. However, it is quite possible to have a very healthy diet on a low income, by avoiding overly processed or packaged foods and choosing their fresh foods wisely. (See our resources list below.)

Lack of knowledge

When young people aren’t aware of the benefits of good nutrition, when left to choose their own foods (for example, at the school canteen) they may go for options with lots of salt or sugar because of the taste.

Social pressure

Adolescents are under a lot of pressure to fit in with their peers and this can influence their diet in many ways. It could be splurging on fast food when out with their friends, overeating in an attempt to build muscle mass quickly or fasting to lose weight.

Benefits of meal planning

Meal plans are great for families as they help overcome many of the above issues.

They save money by eliminating food wastage and unplanned purchases at the supermarket.

Having a plan takes away the uncertainty of having to think about what to eat each day. Knowing that it is all healthy as well, brings relief to many parents.

They save time by having ingredient lists and shopping lists ready to go. They make it easier to prepare food in advance or to cook in bulk which helps get a meal to the table quickly on other days.

Meal plans also ensure that there is plenty of variety in the diet. They keep us from getting bored with having the same sorts of foods each day, plus they help us include a wide range of nutrients to keep us healthy.

Tips to make family meal planning easier

It helps to have the whole family eating the same, or similar, foods at each meal. However, it is important to adjust portion sizes for young children and adolescents according to their needs.

School days can be busy, so make breakfast quick and easy to prepare. Lunches can often be pre-packed the night before and there should be plenty of healthy snacks available, such as fruit, cheese and crackers or small portions of yoghurt.

It’s also a good idea to get everyone involved in the planning process. This not only allows for individual preferences but it also encourages everyone to think carefully about their nutritional needs and teaches young people essential planning and budgeting skills.

To get you on the right track, Elite Fitness Institute offers a Nutrition program designed specifically for adolescents. Each 7-day program includes customised meal plans, shopping lists. Although the plans are customised for individuals, there is no reason why the whole family can’t get involved and follow a similar plan, too.

Our plans help to get young people thinking about the benefits of nutrition and will help to set them on the path for a lifetime of healthy food choices.

Useful resources

Nutrition Australia: Nutrition for teenagers – does it really matter what I eat?

Better Health Channel: Teenagers and healthy eating

Australian Government Department of Health and Aging -Eat for Health: Healthy eating on a budget