Fast and Healthy Food for Teenagers

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Recently, the final report from the Pathobiological Determinants in Youth Study, a massive study which investigated almost 3,000 American youth who had died of external causes like accidents, found that all 15- to 19-year-olds had signs of heart disease in their aorta, the great arterial trunk that carries blood from the heart to branch arteries throughout the body. Reports from the project showed that the more these adolescents ate fat- and cholesterol-rich foods, smoked, and led a sedentary lifestyle, the greater the disease in their arteries.

Adolescents, in short, are not too young to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Here are six tasty tips:

1. Don’t be too strict.
By and large, a heart-healthy diet for 16-year-olds shouldn’t be as limiting as heart-healthy diets for 60-year-olds. Adolescents do have higher requirements for calories, protein, and nutrients such as calcium. Let them have some of the foods they enjoy but try to make the base of meals you serve centered around whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes.

2. Conquer the breakfast blues.
Morning is not a good time for most teenagers, especially boys. They’re tired, grumpy, and in no mood to eat. Send them off with a richly satisfying smoothie that’s rich in nutrients, too. Make it with nonfat yogurt, skim milk, fruit and even a little chocolate Nesquick.

3. Satisfy the afternoon munchies.
Right after school, around 4 p.m., hunger is at an all-time high for many teens. They’ve got burgers on the mind. Try to head them off at the pass. If you’re picking your teenagers up, bring along healthy snacks in the car, such as popcorn, cups of nonfat or low-fat yogurt, cut-up watermelon, peanut butter and celery, and baby carrots. If they’re driving themselves, stock the glove compartment with nutrient-dense edibles like peanuts, bags of trail mix or dried fruit.

4. Spoil your teenager a little.
At homework time, serve your teenager dishes of fresh, sliced fruits and vegetables: oranges, cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers, apples, plums, and peaches. It’s surprising how many good foods an adolescent will eat when they’re served, sliced and pretty, just for him or her.

5. Let them build burritos.
For dinner, put out cooked ground turkey breast, cooked kidney or black beans, warm corn tortillas, and all the fixings: salsa, sliced avocado, low-fat shredded cheese, brown rice, sliced lettuce, diced tomatoes, and raw, diced onions. Both children and adolescents love the freedom of creating their own meal. If your burrito night is successful, try a build-your-own-baked potato night or a build-your-own-pita night.

6. Get creative on the run.
Instead of stopping off for a lot of salt and saturated fat at a fast food restaurant, try a grocery store for a quick meal. Many now have extensive salad bars and deli counters with choices like low-salt, fresh roasted turkey breast as well as ready-to-eat boxed entrees. Make a quick stop, too, at the produce section for apples, bananas, or another new supermarket convenience treat: single-serving plastic containers of precut, ready-to-eat fruit like watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.

Practice damage control.
If fast food is a must, offer your teenager healthier, fast food selections, like the ones listed below. They’re much lower in saturated fat than cheeseburgers and pizzas.

Burger King
Chicken Tenders - 4 pieces
Saturated fat: 3 g
Calories: 170
Sodium: 420 mg
Chicken Tenders Sandwich, no mayo
Saturated fat: 3 g
Calories: 290
Sodium: 570 mg

Veggie Delite 6” Sandwich
Saturated fat: 0.5g
Calories: 200
Sodium: 500 mg
Turkey Breast Deli-Style Sandwich
Saturated fat: 1g
Calories: 200
Sodium: 700 mg
Roast Beef Deli-Style Sandwich
Saturated fat: 1g
Calories: 206
Sodium: 600 mg
Roasted Chicken Breast 6 “ Sandwich
Saturated fat: 1.5 g
Calories: 311
Sodium: 880 mg

Grilled Chicken Salad
Saturated fat: 1.5 g
Calories: 200
Sodium: 780 mg
Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Saturated fat: 1.5 g
Calories: 300
Sodium: 740 mg

By Eugenia Killoran, former editor of the Pritikin Perspective and mother of two teenagers.

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