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Busy teen-agers need solid nutritional base

Editor's note: This is the first in a set of articles on nutrition issues and healthy food that is part of the Newspaper in Education project on nutrition, "Food for Thought."

By Bridget Ideker

lifestyle@postbulletin.com

Classes, homework, school projects, sports, jobs, friends, dating, shopping …; is it any wonder that many teens have a hard time fitting in three balanced meals during the day? To keep up the stamina it takes to lead a hectic lifestyle, teens need a solid nutritional base. How can you fit good nutrition into your schedule? With snacks.

Several healthy snacks throughout the day can help to curb hunger and give you the boost you need. A general rule of thumb is to have something to eat every three to four hours.

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It is easy to skimp on -- or skip -- breakfast. Skipping breakfast can make it harder for you to concentrate and make you feel tired. It also can make you overeat at your next meal. Shoot for having something of substance to eat within two hours of waking. Combining complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) with some source of lean protein (low-fat cheese, lean meats, and beans) can help give you the a.m. boost you need.

Ideal breakfast snacks are a bagel with light cream cheese and yogurt with low-fat granola cereal sprinkled in. Even a piece of leftover cheese pizza is a great breakfast snack.

Beware of high-fat snacks. An order of French fries, doughnuts and candy bars may take away those hunger pains, but they will add too many calories and not enough nutrients in the long run. Whenever possible, look for low-fat or fat-free versions of your favorite foods. Keep in mind that even though some snacks are reduced-fat or fat-free, they still may be high in calories. Some, such as fat-free cookies, may provide little to no nutrition.

Snacks shouldn't become a substitute for regular meals. It is important to maintain meal times, especially around a family dinner table. Food is social. Try to have at least one family meal together each day to catch up on what is new with the family. Make sure you also are sitting down for a lunch meal at school; use that time to catch up with the latest details of your friends' lives.

Plan ahead for snacks so that you aren't stuck looking to the vending machine for answers to your hunger. Peanut butter and crackers, fresh fruit, pretzels, and baked tortilla chips all can be kept in your locker at school. String cheese or unsweetened cereals with skim or 1 percent milk are easy to keep on hand at home for snacks.

Try these recipes for a new flare to snacking. Creativity is the key to flavor; try something new to tempt your taste buds.

Tiny pizzas

1 bagel, cut in half

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Tomato sauce

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Pizza toppings (try peppers, onions, mushrooms, pineapple)

Set oven to 325. Spread tomato sauce on each bagel half. Sprinkle with cheese and toppings. Bake for 5-8 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

Easy cheese popcorn

10 cups air-popped popcorn (or lite microwave popcorn)

3/4 cup reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove any unpopped kernels from the popcorn, and spread the popcorn on a large cookie sheet with sides. Popcorn should cover the pan bottom in a single layer, with as few as possible spaces in between kernels. Slowly sprinkle cheese over the popcorn, being careful that the cheese remains on the kernels. Bake for 3 to 4 minutes or until cheese has melted onto the popcorn. Loosen any stuck cheese from the bottom of the pan with a broad spatula. Cool popcorn in the pan on wire rack. Popcorn will keep two to three days in an airtight container.

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Easy quesadillas

Fat-free or reduced-fat refried beans

Reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese

Flour tortillas

Salsa

Lay tortilla flat on a plate. Spread on refried beans, covering entire tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese. Roll up and microwave for 10-15 seconds. Serve with salsa for dipping.

Bridget Ideker is a registered dietitian working as an outpatient dietitian at Olmsted Medical Center.

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