With the exam period upon us and hundreds of thousands of high school students completing their final exams, stress levels within the family home are likely to be at an all time high. Getting your teen to eat well during this intense period may be more challenging than usual, but is crucial to ensure they are at their best mentally and physical throughout the entire exam period.
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Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for all of us but is of utmost importance on the day of a big exam. Unfortunately nerves and stress are both likely to impact on appetite the morning of exams. It is absolutely imperative that some sort of breakfast is eaten on exam days. Skipping breakfast has been proven to reduce the ability to concentrate and remain focused throughout the morning and hence must be seen as a priority. Ideally a breakfast option that combines both low GI carbohydrates and lean proteins will sustain your teen throughout the morning. Good choices include eggs on wholegrain toast or oats or muesli with yoghurt and fruit. If solid food is not an option, try a liquid meal breakfast drink or protein shake. For worst case scenarios, a couple of dry crackers with spread or a muesli bar will be better than skipping breakfast altogether.
A second dietary factor to consider for busy students is whether they, particularly the girls are getting enough iron. Many teenage girls will cut back on red meat in their later high school years, but lean red meat is the best source of readily absorbable iron and ideally needs to be consumed in small amounts 3-4 times each week. If your teen appears abnormally tired, it may be worth having a blood test to check their iron levels and try and get them to eat red meat regularly throughout the exam period.
Finally, pay particular attention to how much caffeine and other stimulants your teen is consuming. Energy drinks, coffee and caffeine tablets may provide a short term energy burst but they can also result in increased heart rate and anxiety, insomnia and fluctuating blood glucose levels – all less than ideal symptoms for already stressed teens. Encourage your teen to drink water and herbal tea, limit their coffee intake to just 1 to 2 cups each day and encourage them to get plenty of rest during this time. Remember that small regular protein rich snacks of nut bars, protein drinks or dairy food will help to keep them alert and better able to concentrate and a good night sleep is sometimes the best thing for a tired and stressed out brain.