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Fast Food And The Lean, Mean Teen

Originally Posted: January 26, 2011

Southampton - The typical teen's hectic schedule often makes fast-food meals a tempting - or necessary - option. However, say Ellen Shanley and Colleen Thompson in their new book, "Fueling the Teen Machine," (2nd Edition, Bull Publishing Company, $16.95) you don't have to write off nutrition when you place your order.

Being a teen is tough. Most days your schedule is jam-packed with activities from the time you crawl out of bed to the time you face-plant onto your mattress at night. You're balancing school, social life, homework, chores, and a host of extracurricular stuff that might range from sports to band practice to an after-school job. You really don't have time to plan out your meals and count calories, but you still want to be healthy (and let's face it - look great in those trendy new jeans).

Is there any way to reconcile these health-conscious desires with a lifestyle that often necessitates greasy paper bags from the drive-thru window?

Absolutely, say Shanley and Thompson. You just have to know, and act, on some basic nutritional facts when you're ordering.

"Fast food is part of the American lifestyle, and it's not realistic to suggest that teens, or adults, for that matter, will never eat another burger or large fry again," says Shanley. Shanley and Thompson are registered dieticians who practice and teach at the University of Connecticut. They're also parents, and they're all too aware that teens concerns about their bodies don't always mesh well with their day-to-day diets.

"In the midst of the daily whirlwind that is the typical teenager's life, a fast-food snack after the game or a quick combo eaten with friends is sometimes the only realistic option," confirms Thompson. "Plusólet's be honestólots of fast-food fare is tasty! And the good news is it can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle."

Some Nutrition Tips

 • Super-Size does matter. Think twice about whether you really need all that food.

 • Fish and chicken don't always deserve their healthful rep. It's a common (if not universal) assumption that white meat is healthier than red meat, but that's not always the case. Since many fast-food restaurants bread and fry their chicken and fish, these choices often end up having as much or more fat and calories than a hamburger.

 • Download the (nutritional) lowdown. Yes, it's important to know what's in the foods you eat - how many fat grams and calories, how much sugar, and how much good stuff like calcium and vitamin C. As mentioned, all fast-food joints provide nutritional info on their menu items.

 • Go green. Give some thought to ordering a side salad instead. It's a great way to fit in a serving of nutritious veggies! Go for the 'lite' or reduced-fat dressings, or use less of the heavier ones.

 • Skip the mocha-frappe-espresso-ccino-with-whipped-cream coffee drink. One beverage and a muffin are often a whole meal in terms of calories - though not necessarily in terms of nutrition? Ordering these treats on a regular basis might not be so desirable after all.

 • Think outside your go-to wrapper. Most of us gravitate toward one or two meals when we go to our favorite fast-food spots. Although it might mean reading the menu more carefully than you have in years, going beyond "the usual" might pay off for your tastebuds, and your body.

 • Step away from the soda. Did you know that those caffeinated, refreshing beverages account for as much as 10 percent of the typical teen's daily calories?

"Mix and match these tactics when the drive-thru beckons, and you'll be doing your body and health a favor," concludes Thompson. "Remember that many of the choices on the menu can fit into your meal plan - it's just a matter of how often you choose certain foods and what you eat along with them that make the difference. By simply changing your side item or beverage and being aware of what each choice really contains, you'll save lots of calories and gain a good deal of nutritional value."

"The bottom line is, it's all about balance," adds Shanley. "Every young person has days that get away, practices that run late, and families who can't always sit down for a meal at the same time. Don't worry too much about the occasional supper in a bag - just make the best choices you can and compensate the following day by emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains."

For more information go to www.bullpub.com.

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