Peer pressure, dieting, bullying, hormones, exams and family squabbles. The average teenager's life can be hard. We talk to Alessandra Peters, the inspirational teen behind the new book The Foodie Teen about how she copes with stress and what you can do to help your teen.
I think what people don’t realise is the correlation between what you eat and that kind of brain fog that you get.
Your new book is aimed at teenagers and you are 17 yourself. Why do you think it’s important for young people to be aware of the way they eat?
The reason that I wanted to write this book specifically for teenagers is because I think that we have so much power and are able to do so much, but don't realise it. While it can seem very hard to change your diet and your entire lifestyle when you're so busy with school, work, friends and family, at this point in your life it's actually really important to live a healthy lifestyle – not just for now but for the future. Hopefully, you'll have some skills when you go uni and you won't have to live on beans on toast! It’s much better for you and sets you up for a long and healthier life.
It’s hard enough being a teenager without facing challenges like Coeliac disease, which you were diagnosed with. What advice do you have for others who are facing similar problems?
I’d say just take it step by step. Baby steps are key. The easiest way to start is by making the tiniest change. I always encourage people to start by eating more vegetables. After realising how much better you feel after it, how much more concentration you have and how it changes the way your body feels, you might be more inspired to make other small changes. Eventually these changes will build and build and you’ll be able to transform your whole diet and life with minimal effort.
What are the easiest recipes to start with?
I always recommend soups and salads, as I think that they're an easy way to start cooking. Also there’s some really delicious raw desserts in my book such as the chocolate coconut macaroons, which are really easy to make as they've only got about five ingredients. Plus, they’re raw so you can't burn them even if you try!
As a teenager, peer pressure can make it quite difficult to follow a healthy diet around friends, since lots of teenagers love to eat junk food. Which healthy snacks would you make if you were hanging out with your friends?
I struggled with the same thing. There’s actually an entire chapter on this in my book called 'party bites'. I think that it’s really important to be able to make something to take with you to friends houses and parties so you don't feel left out. Most of the recipes in that chapter will often disappear faster than the crisps do! It’s quite fun to have that kind of reaction and it's great to be able to introduce your friends to something that might open up their minds.
I think a lot of people have this idea that healthy eating is just kale salads and green smoothies which can put them off, but when you make something delicious and share it, they get to see that healthy food doesn’t have to bland, boring or tasteless: it can be really good for you and delicious too! So in the end it works out for me as well as it does for them.
What do you think is the best healthy recipe for mums who need to make a big, speedy meal for the whole family?
There's a spiced chocolate chilli with coriander-spiked avocado recipe in the book that is really good. It’s full of vegetables, so you can bulk it up with lots of carrots and celery for a wholesome family meal and it can also be made in advance for convenience. The chocolate in it really brings out the spicy flavour (top tip), while the avocado adds an extra level with its creamy texture. You can also serve it with all kinds of sides from cauliflower rice, which is in the book, to salad.
Going out with friends, family or even on a date can become surprisingly difficult if you are trying to keep healthy! What dishes do you instantly look for on the menu? And what dishes would you recommend families order?
I usually go for something that’s quite simple and avoid any fancy sauces or add-ons, which can have hidden additives in them. Something like a soup or even a main such as chicken with some grilled vegetables. Or I’ll choose a salad, but I’ll always make sure to go for something hearty so that it keeps me fuller for longer.
It's easy to turn to junk food in stressful times. What healthier alternatives should we try instead?
It can be hard to stop eating junk food, but once you start realising how bad it's making you feel it becomes easier. For example, when you come home from school, instead of going for the fridge or having crisps or chocolate, try some vegetable sticks and have them with a yoghurt and herb dip. It does get boring drinking water constantly so instead of fizzy drinks, I like flavoured or infused waters. I'll always make sure I have some pre-made snacks on me too.
Exam season can be one of the most stressful times of the year. How do you cope and what can parents do to ensure that their teenager is eating the right food to boost brainpower?
The main thing is to focus on real brain-boosting food such as fruit and veg. Don't skip breakfast and make sure that you have some protein, such as eggs. Things like that that are really filling and will be a good energy source throughout the day.
Just day-to-day life can often be stressful enough in itself for teens. What are your top tips for planning ahead so your day is as healthy as it can be?
My number one tip is use your weekend wisely. For example, I’ll use a Sunday afternoon to prep for the entire week. There's actually a whole page in the book dedicated to this. I'll do things like make some homemade nut butters and almond milk, prep and cut up vegetables and put some dips together to make it much easier for when I get home from school. If the vegetables are already cut up in the fridge, it’s easier to go for that option instead of crisps or chocolate. My second tip is getting up earlier in the mornings. It doesn't have to be by a lot: I get up about 15 minutes earlier and that gives me time to making a really good breakfast and pack my lunch.
Alessandra Peter's new book The Foodie Teen is out now. Inspire your teen by picking up a copy at selected Asda stores.