What to feed your teen at exam time
With exams front of mind for thousands of Aussie teens (and their families) who are about to complete their final year of school, there is no better time to focus on preparation. As is the case when you prepare for a big sporting event, ensuring that the mind and body is optimally fueled is a crucial step in optimal preparation. So if parents are keen to know the best brain foods to plate up over the next few weeks, or to reach for on the day of the exam, here are the nutrient rich superfoods to base an exam preparation diet on.
Fasting will not cut it when your teen has several hours of intense study time at the beginning of each day, or on the day of an exam. Rather the key is a good source of slowly digested carbs to help restore the body’s stores of glucose, and to ensure the brain has access to plenty of fuel. One of the top picks are a bowl of oats – oats have a low GI, which means they release the energy they contain relatively slowly into the blood stream and will keep a teen well fueled for 3-4 hours. Even better would be teaming these oats with fruit and yoghurt for an energy and nutrient dense meal.
Eggs closely follow a strong breakfast choice. Not only are eggs a source of high biological value protein and a great filling breakfast option, they are also a good source of the vital nutrient choline. Choline has been shown to have a number of vital functions including optimal cell membrane function and neurotransmission which is linked to enhanced brain function.
Or if your teen struggles with solid food in the morning, try a smoothie blended with milk, yoghurt, fruit and ice for a protein and carbohydrate liquid meal.
The brain needs lots of energy when much focus and concentration is required, so plates loaded with lean proteins, good quality carbs and as many brightly coloured veggies as you can manage is the key to nutrition success in the weeks leading up to exam period. Lean red meat, fish, wholegrains and veggies will help to optimise energy levels and support brain function, support immune function and ensure your teen is well fueled to help power through the exam period.
Specifically when it comes to brain food, you cannot go past fish and specifically oily fish such as Tassal salmon for the range of nutrients it offers. In fact, there are few foods that tick the brain power box to the extent that salmon does. Not only is salmon one of the richest natural sources of omega-3 fats which are intricately involved in brain functioning, but in addition the range of B group vitamins including Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12 are individually associated with a range of key physiological functions including energy production, language development and memory. With few Aussies getting even close to their daily recommended omega-3 intakes, exam time is the perfect time to up your teen’s intake of salmon.
Brightly coloured veggies
Not generally high on the list of foods teens enjoy, when it comes to stressful exam times, nutrient rich veggies become important to help buffer the stress response which an impact immune function. As a general rule of thumb, the brighter the colour of the veg, the higher the nutrient content so think sweet potato fries, green smoothies with kale and spinach and vegetable bakes to help load up their intake of nutrient rich veggies, sometimes without them even noticing.
Lean red meat
Just as salmon is important for a dose of omega-3 fats, so too for meat eaters is getting adequate amounts of well absorbed iron via lean red meats at least 3 times each week. This means that lean mince dishes, lasagna, spag bol or a steak sandwich are all iron rich meal choices to include in the weekly meal roster.
When energy demands are high, we need plenty of carbs but with carbs it is all about the right type, and unfortunately white bread, rice and noodles are not the best option. Rather choosing wholegrain carbs including legume pasta, brown rice, wholegrain bread as well as starchy veges such as sweet potato will give your teen the sustained energy they need, along with extra nutrients to keep their health at its best.
Often avoided due to allergy fears, nuts, whether consumed raw or as a nut spread on crackers or bread is an energy and nutrient rich addition to the diet of busy teens which also offer a range of key nutrients including good fats, Vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. All nutrients involved in the keeping the immune system at its best.
While teens will often reach for processed snack foods, the truth is that they are much better to reach for a wholegrain sandwich or wrap to give them sustained nutrition along with a dose of protein and / or good fats from nutrient rich fillings such as cheese, lean meat, nut spreads or avocado. A sandwich is a also a great exam day energy top up, especially if your teen has two exams scheduled on the same day.
Again not a food group that teens may naturally reach for, but as a rich source of Vitamin C to support immune function and the B group vitamins which are involved in energy production, keeping a supply of chopped fresh fruits, or packing extras for exams days will give your teen ready access to an energy rich food, with minimal packaging, mess or fuss.
Some of our favourite recipes to fuel the body before exam time are below.
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This blog has been written by Susie Burrell.