This past year has been challenging, to say the least. There has been a lot of talk about adults struggling during the pandemic, but we must remember the impact it has had on teenagers too.
Whilst at the stage where pulling away from parents, becoming independent and finding their places in the wider world around them should be happening, all of a sudden adolescents have been forced indoors, cooped up 24/7 with their parents and siblings.
With their bodies and minds developing, a teen’s needs are centred on movement, independence and socialising.
It’s therefore so important that, during these challenging times, teenagers remain healthy both mentally and physically. The two go hand in hand after all – being physically healthy will raise dopamine levels, which results in good mental health, which then results in keeping up good practices. And incorporating healthy habits from a young age will benefit them throughout their adult lives.
Here are some things teens can do to support their physical and mental health whilst we move slowly out of lockdown:
Eating a Balanced Diet
It can be tough to encourage our teens to eat a balanced diet, yet if you can, then a healthy diet and lifestyle will cause a better mood, which helps everyone, right?!
Growth and development are rapid in teenagers; your teen may sleep more than anyone else in your family, but that’s totally normal because of the changes going on.
You want to make sure that they are getting all the nutrients to support this process, so it’s important to keep an eye on dieting and faddy eaters. It’s just as important to make sure you are not modelling this behaviour, as this could lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and deficiencies. For instance, we are now seeing some teenagers becoming deficient in calcium, zinc and iron, which can then lead to health problems, especially in girls.
Personally I don’t believe in diets; they are a quick fix, rarely work long term and don’t deal with the root of the problem. A healthier sustainable approach is eating a balanced diet composed of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
Your teens need carbohydrates for energy, protein for their muscles and healthy fats for cardiovascular and brain health.
Let’s break that down:
Do your best to eat good quality protein. If going for meat, then eat less good quality meat, so organic or grass fed. Don’t get me started on non-organic meat, for a start, it’s injected with hormones and antibiotics.
It’s good to eat a mix of animal and plant based protein like eggs, quinoa, tofu, lentils chickpeas and beans. The more varied the diet, the better.
Include complex carbs in your diet like sweet potato and brown rice as well as normal potatoes. Other excellent sources of carbs are sourdough breads and pasta.
Include good quality fats like omega 3 which are beneficial for the brain. Good sources include nuts and seeds like chia and flaxseeds (you can sneak these into your teens’ breakfasts or a yummy smoothy), wild salmon, sardines and mackerel. Avocado, olive oil, and coconut oils are also good.
Include a mix of colours
It goes without saying to include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your teens diet. But try to eat a variety of colours; we call this ‘rainbow on a plate’. For example, when going for peppers, buy all three colours. When going for vegetables, you could go for the stir-fry pack that has different vegetables. Try and think one green, red, yellow and orange – get creative!
Avoid Processed Food
I know this can be hard but get your teen to avoid processed food as much as possible. Processed food is anything with over 5 ingredients. It’s better to cook from scratch using fresh ingredients. Whether you’re cooking burgers, fries, pizza or other foods, prepare them yourself so you know exactly what is in your food and it will be free from all preservatives.
If you are super busy, then there are some great, reasonable recipe boxes on the market which can take the pressure off a few meals.
Meal planning also means you know what you are cooking and you have all the ingredients ready to go.
Foods to eat in moderation
Like I mentioned, food impacts mood, so the more junk food and ready-made meals with zero nutritional value you or your teen consume, the more your mood will change. Try to limit all fizzy drinks, crisps, biscuits, cakes and processed meals. In fact, just don’t have them in the house – if your teen is hungry it’s too easy to reach for them, instead they will have to be more creative.
Here are some proven Wellness Tips
Keep to a routine
During the pandemic, sticking to a routine has been so important for both adults and teenagers. Especially teenagers that have spent most of the year studying from home. It’s good practice to go to bed and wake up at the same time. Good quality sleep is essential for healthy brain function.
Encourage your teen to have breakfast at the same time every morning, allocate enough time to their studies, take some regular exercise, eat regularly and have some free time and family time.
When not studying teenagers should be active. Encourage your teen to get in 10,000 steps a day. This can be walking, a run in the park or a bike ride. When not studying teenagers should be active.
Research shows that if you exercise from a young age, you will carry on throughout adult life.
Do fun activities as a family
It may not always seem like it, but even your teen wants to feel part of the family so try to do fun things together. This, of course, will be different for each family. It can be exercising all together or playing board games or watching a movie.
Experiment with new healthy recipes
Encourage your teen to prepare a family meal once or twice a week. This gives them a chance to experiment in the kitchen and feel independent. Cooking is very therapeutic and fun.
Do you set your goals? If so, then see if your teenagers can get into the habit of doing theirs. It can be so creative and take their mind away from any frustrations whilst looking to their future. They can write their long terms goals and then work backwards with short-term ones.
Journaling is a great way to improve mood. It helps you to prioritise any problem or concerns you may have. Tracking how you feel day to day. It is a great way to write down your thoughts and feelings and can be very therapeutic.
I know you may feel you are always telling your teen to turn down their music, but playing their favourite tunes and dancing will instantly make them feel better. If things are getting a bit fraught, then turn up the music and dance! There is nothing like a kitchen disco to cheer everyone up.
Lastly, I would say, don’t be too hard on your teen. This year has been tough, at the age where they are discovering so much about themselves and the world they have been caged up, separated from each other and everything they have known. Listening and offering love and support will go along way to helping them feel safe and secure.
Thank you so much, Dania, for putting together these nutrition and wellness tips for teens especially for Equipp. If you’d like to read more about a healthy lifestyle for teens, you might find this recent article interesting.