Susie Burrell: How to help your teen eat their way to success


Helping your child have a calm mindset going into an exam can be as simple as the right diet. Photo / Getty Images

The right food and drink before an exam is critical for performance and giving your child the right nutrition right will help give them an added edge.

If you are at your wit’s end trying to pacify your nerves let alone those of your kids, here are some diet strategies to help ensure your teen is properly fuelled for upcoming exams.

Goodbye feeling jittery and sluggish and welcome a calm and alert mindset — not to mention a satisfied tummy — for top marks on the day.

Why is nutrition so important?

Studying burns a surprisingly high number of calories so diets need 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; iron rich lean red meat and seafood to support energy levels; brightly coloured fresh fruits and veggies to help optimise immunity and wholegrain carbs to fuel the muscles and the brain. I

n food terms, this translates into fresh fruit and veggie juices and smoothies, roasted vegetables and salads with fish and lean red meat and wholegrain bread, breakfast cereals and grain-based meals.

Starting with breakfast

Breakfast is never as important as it is on an exam day. Unfortunately, nerves and stress are both likely to affect appetite on 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 veggie juice, slice of toast with 100 per cent nut spread or piece of fruit will be better than eating nothing at all.

Nutrient-rich meals

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 support 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 all of these nutrient boxes are ticked throughout the exams.

Superfoods for exam time


You cannot go past fish and specifically oily fish such as salmon for the range of nutrients it offers. Not only is salmon one of the richest natural sources of omega 3 fats which are intricately involved in brain functioning, but the range of B-group vitamins including vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12 also are individually associated with memory, concentration and energy production in the body.

Brightly coloured veggies

As a general rule of thumb, the brighter the colour of the veggie, the higher the nutrient content so think sweet potato fries, green smoothies with kale and spinach and vegetable bakes to help load up their intake of nutrient-rich veggies.

Lean red meat

For red-meat eaters getting adequate amounts of well-absorbed iron via lean red meats at least three times each week is imperative at exam time. This means lean mince dishes, lasagne, spag bol or a steak sandwich are all iron-rich meal choices to include in the weekly meal roster.

Wholegrain carbs

When energy demands are high, we need plenty of carb

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Wednesday night dinner inspiration…… Asian Inspired Baked Salmon & ‘Fried’ Rice Serves 2 1 1/2 tbsp. gluten free soy sauce 1 tbsp. sweet chilli sauce 1 tbsp. lime juice 1 tsp. crushed garlic 1 tsp. crushed ginger 2 x 150g @tassalsalmon salmon fillets 1/2 cup broccoli florets 1/2 cup carrot, peeled, diced 1/2 cup frozen peas 2/3 cup cooked brown rice 1 spring onion, diced 1) In a small bowl mix together 1 tbsp. of the soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, lime juice, garlic and ginger. 2) Lay two pieces of foil on the bench and place a salmon fillet in each (skin-side down); pour marinate evenly over the two pieces of salmon. Fold foil around the salmon to make two parcels. Cook in pre-heated oven at 180°C for 10-12 minutes. 3) Meanwhile, place broccoli, carrot and peas in microwave safe bowl and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain well. 4) Mix together the rice, cooked vegetables, spring onion and remaining 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce. 5) Remove salmon from the foil parcel and serve on a bed of fried rice and drizzle with any remaining parcel juices. #wednesdays #dinner #nutrition #nutritionist #diet #dietitian #salmon

A post shared by Susie Burrell (@susiediet) on

s but with carbs, it is all about the right type, and unfortunately white bread, rice and noodles are not the best options. Choosing wholegrain carbs including legume pasta, brown rice, whole grain bread as well as starchy veggies such as sweet potato will give your teen the sustained energy they need.


Whether consumed raw or as a spread on crackers or bread, nuts are energy- and nutrient-rich addition to the diet of busy teens which also offer a range of key nutrients including good fats, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. All nutrients help the keep the immune system at its best.

Wholegrain bread

While teens will often reach for processed snack foods, the truth is they are much better to reach for a whole grain sandwich or wrap to give them sustained energy. Think nutrient-rich fillings such as cheese, lean meat, nut spreads or avocado. A sandwich is also a great exam day energy top-up, especially if your teen has two exams on the same day.

Fresh fruit

Again, not a food group that teens may naturally reach for, but as a rich source of vitamin C to support immune function and the B-group vitamins which are involved in energy production, keeping a supply of chopped fresh fruits, or packing extras for exams days will give your teen ready access to an energy-rich food, with minimal packaging, mess or fuss.

Three food mistakes before an exam

Too much sugar

Lollies, energy drinks, biscuits and snack bars will give you a quick hit of energy but also a subsequent energy drop an hour or so later. Not so good for a 2-3 hour exam.

Too much caffeine

Controlled amounts (60-100mg) of caffeine or the equivalent of a strong coffee can be used to enhance perceived energy and alertness but too much or the equivalent of two strong coffees or large energy drinks can leave you feeling irritable, restless and affect sleep. More is not better

Processed snack foods

Flavoured chips, biscuits, noodles and crackers can contain additives including MSG (621) which can affect sleep.

What about days when there are two exams?

Double-barrel exam days mean easy to eat snacks to refuel the brain without sitting heavily on a nervous tummy. Think protein and carb rich options that are light and easy to eat.

● Peanut butter sandwich

● Yoghurt tube

● Nut or protein-based snack bar

●Liquid meal or protein milk drink

● Chicken or ham wrap

Don’t forget to hydrate

While what we eat is important, drinking enough to support optimal hydration is crucial for cognitive performance, to aid concentration and help with stress management and memory. Time water and tea intake to reach at least 2L of fluid each day, factoring in a two-hour window before an exam begins.

Best late night study snacks

● Popcorn — a protein and fibre-rich wholegrain

● Pumpkin seeds — full of zinc and good fats

● Roasted chickpeas — protein-rich crunchy snacks in sweet and savoury varieties.

● Berries — rich in vitamin C for an antioxidant boost

● Cheese and crackers — protein, calcium and magnesium-rich. Perfect just before bed.


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