The Hunger Games
How to win: Choose a healthy meal when you’re starving—and avoid the millions of junk-food obstacles in your path. Our real teen contestants did it—and so can you!
Challenge #1: Mall Food Court
Challenger: Maddie Pease, 9th grade, Collbran, CO
Instead of... Fried egg rolls
Maddie ordered: A pita with lettuce, spinach, mushrooms, peppers, cucumbers, olive oil, and balsamic vinaigrette plus a bottle of water
“I usually grab Chinese food at the mall, but a pita seemed healthier.”
The veggies were a smart choice, but adding a protein—like chicken, shrimp, or chickpeas—to your pita will keep you satisfied longer. Why? Protein takes more time to digest, says Adena Neglia, a nutritionist in New York City. (Bonus: It helps your body build and repair muscles, which makes you stronger.)
Challenge #2: Convenience Store
Challenger: Connor Palmira, 6th grade, Las Vegas, NV
Instead of... Chips and a slushie
Connor ordered: A chicken sandwich on a whole-wheat bun (with lettuce and tomato), a fruit salad, and a bottled smoothie
“The only downside was that this meal was pricier than fast food.”
Verdict: Don’t be fooled by the bottle’s health claims, warns Neglia: That smoothie contains more sugar than a bottle of soda. (And research shows that sugar-heavy beverages may impair memory and learning. Yikes!) So make this balanced meal more nutritious—and cheaper—by eliminating the pricey beverage.
Challenge #3: Mexican Fast Food
Challenger: Sophia Reyes, 7th grade, Bronx, NY
Instead of... A steak burrito
Sophia ordered: A chicken burrito bowl (with lettuce, salsa, guacamole, black beans, brown rice, cheese, sour cream, and corn)
“I love burritos, but I figured I should skip the tortilla.”
Verdict: Going for the burrito bowl with brown rice was a winning move! Refined carbs (like the wrap or white rice) can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then drop, which saps your energy. Just go easy on the sour cream, cheese, and guac—they’re typically piled on and cause the calories to add up fast.
Images: Ron Bailey/Getty Images (slushie); Shutterstock (chips, egg rolls, steak burrito); Courtesy of Pita Pit (pita); Lauri Patterson/Getty Images (chicken sandwich); Michael Saechang/Flickr (burrito bowl); Courtesy of families (teens)