Eating for the HSC. What kids should eat to help their brains.


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Super fuelling their brain and their body.

Any parent with teens gearing up for the upcoming exam period will be all too familiar with the stress than inevitably engulfs the final few months of school. Exam countdowns, study breaks and celebratory functions all part of the last school weeks, ever. So if you are at your wits end trying to pacify your own nerves let alone those of your kids, here are some meal and snack strategies to help ensure your teen is properly fuelled over the next few weeks so you have something to put your energy into while you wait!

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Optimal nutrition is of crucial importance during the intense exam period. Studying burns a surprisingly high number of calories so the diet needs to be based around nutrient rich foods for a daily vitamin and mineral hit during this period. Think plenty of omega 3 rich salmon as the ultimate brain food; brightly coloured fresh fruits and veges to help boost immunity and wholegrain carbs for well controlled energy levels. In food terms this translates into fresh vege juices, roasted vegetables with fish and hearty sandwiches on wholegrain bread.

Breakfast is never as important as it is on an exam day. Unfortunately nerves and stress are both likely to impact on appetite the morning of exams. Ideally a breakfast option that combines both low GI carbohydrates and lean proteins will sustain your teen throughout the morning. Good choices include eggs or smoked salmon on wholegrain toast, a fruit based smoothie or Greek yoghurt with fruit. If the nerves are too great, at least a vege juice, slice of toast with 100% nut spread or piece of fruit will be better than eating nothing at all.

Key nutrients to focus on at this time include omega 3 rich foods for optimal brain function, iron rich foods for energy and zinc and Vitamin C rich foods to promote optimally immune function during this stressful time. Including salmon in the diet 2-3 times each week, red meat 2-3 times along with a daily serve of vegetable juice and fresh vegetables will ensure that all of these nutrient boxes are ticked throughout the ax am period. 

While teens will be very familiar with the potential performance benefits caffeine offers, while energy drinks, coffee and caffeine tablets may provide a short term energy burst the downside is that they can also cause increased heart rates 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. 

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