Need some easy recipes for feeding your hungry teen? Here are 25+ dinner ideas for teens that they can make themselves.
As much as you try to make family dinner happen, your teenager may have other plans.
You know how it goes: Sports practices and school activities run late, last-minute study sessions with friends crop up, and their social life suddenly takes off.
Or maybe your teen, like mine, regularly craves a late-night “second dinner,” when you’re officially off-duty from the kitchen.
Nuking chicken nuggets, making a peanut butter sandwich, or grabbing fast food is fine sometimes, but wouldn’t it be nice for your teen to eat a home-cooked meal while building an important life skill?
Below you’ll find a ton of dinner ideas for teens that they can prep all by themselves (or with minimal help from you!).
Are your teens making their own lunches? Here are the 30+ Healthy Lunches for Teens
Dinner Ideas For Teens
What makes this list different
This is not a list of recipe links. I don’t know about your teen, but mine isn’t up for anything complicated or time-consuming when he’s hungry.
Instead, here you’ll find ideas for dinner components you can prep (or buy) that your teen can use to build meals. Plus, I’ve included 20 simple, low-effort dinner ideas for teens, and a few recipes that don’t involve much (or any) cooking time.
First, let’s stock the kitchen
Say goodbye to cries of “We have no food!” You and your teen can prep these items on the weekend to make a great starting point for a healthy meal. This is a good opportunity to teach them more life skills (food prep!) and spend quality time together.
Bonus: These components can be used to build a healthy snack or even healthy school lunches.
- Cooked ground beef or ground turkey (add taco seasoning for taco meat)
- Cooked brown or white rice (here’s how to make rice in the Instant Pot)
- Cooked quinoa or farro
- Grilled chicken breasts (I love this easy stovetop method)
- A sheet pan of baked cubed tofu
- Rinsed and chopped raw veggies
- A pan of roasted veggies (toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast at 400 degrees F until crisp around the edges)
- Washed salad greens
- Baked potatoes (white or sweet potatoes)
- Favorite sauces and dressings
- Cooked shrimp
- Cooked beans or lentils
- Cooked pasta
- Jarred salads
- Hard boiled eggs
Here are healthy, convenient items to buy at the grocery store for building meals:
- Frozen entrees, frozen burritos
- Veggie burgers & patties (read: Is Plant-Based Meat Healthy?)
- Frozen veggies: Toss into rice, pasta, or on a baked potato
- Frozen burritos
- Microwaveable cups of mashed potatoes
- Soup cups or ramen packets
- Rice pouches (plain or flavored)
- Pasta pouches (ready-made pasta)
- Tortilla chips or whole tortillas
- Frozen beef or turkey burgers
- Frozen sweet potato fries
- Jarred spaghetti sauce
- Pre-baked pizza crust or flatbread
- Canned salmon and tuna
- Frozen cauliflower “rice”
- Jarred pesto
- Jarred sauces like teriyaki, curry, etc.
- Jarred salsa or queso
- Bagged salads
- Bagged, prepped veggies like broccoli and cauliflower florets, snap peas, and Brussels sprouts
- Shredded mozzarella, cheddar, or blends of cheeses
- Pre-cooked bacon or sausage
- Sliced deli meats
20 easy meals for teens
Here are some easy dinner ideas for teens that even a beginner cook can make:
1. Ramen “Plus”
Cook ramen noodles according to the package, then add in frozen veggies or greens, extra protein (like teriyaki jerky, peanuts, scrambled egg, or deli chicken), and some sweet/hot chili sauce and cook on low until everything is heated through.
2. Bean Burritos
Spread refried beans on a tortilla, then add a spoonful of black beans (or another kind of beans) that have been rinsed and drained. Add a spoonful of salsa, shredded cheddar cheese, then roll up and microwave for 30-60 seconds to melt or cook in a pan on the stovetop until browned.
3. French Bread Pizzas
Slice a baguette in half and then lengthwise. Toast under the broiler for a few minutes to get crisp. Then spread with pizza sauce or pesto, mozzarella cheese, and favorite pizza toppings and broil a few more minutes until melty.
4. Baked Potato
Poke a rinsed potato all over with a fork and microwave for about 8 minutes. Top with butter, shredded cheese, and some steamed broccoli florets.
5. Rice Bowl
Start with a base of rice, farro, or quinoa. Add a protein (such as grilled chicken, cooked tofu, or chickpeas), chopped veggies, and a favorite sauce such as Peanut Sauce or jarred Teriyaki Sauce.
6. Sheet Pan Nachos
Spread tortilla chips on a sheet pan, top with rinsed/drained canned black beans, prepped taco meat, and shredded cheddar cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F for 5 minutes. Remove and top with salsa, sour cream, and cubed or sliced avocado.
7. Pesto Tortellini
Cook a pot of cheese tortellini (or any pasta), rinse, and drain. Add a few spoonfuls of jarred pesto. Top with Parmesan and eat with a side salad or fruit salad.
Spread refried beans all over a burrito-sized tortilla, add shredded or sliced cheese, grilled meat (or prepped taco meat), or roasted veggies, fold over, and cook in a lightly oiled skillet or in the toaster oven until melty.
9. Power Salad
Start with a bagged salad or rinsed greens and top with a protein (such as 1/2 cup drained and rinsed chickpeas or edamame, tuna, chopped hard-boiled eggs, or grilled chicken), add a handful of nuts, sliced apple or other fruit, and their favorite salad dressing.
10. Rice and Beans
Drain and rinse canned beans and microwave for about a minute or until steaming. Combine with a heated pouch of pre-cooked rice. Top with a spoonful of salsa or a sprinkle of taco seasoning mix.
11. Fried Rice
Place a portion of cooked rice in a skillet coated with cooking spray. Add frozen vegetables and cook until heated through. Move everything to one side of the pan, then crack an egg on the other side, pushing around until cooked through. Combine with rice, add a splash of soy sauce, and stir until everything is combined.
12. Egg Sandwich
In a mug or ramekin coated with cooking spray, mix together one egg, a splash of milk, a pinch salt and pepper, and some shredded cheese. Microwave, covered, for about a minute or until set. Place on a toasted bun or English muffin with a slice of ham or a microwaved frozen sausage patty.
13. Veggie Cheeseburger
Cook veggie burger on the stovetop or microwave, melting a slice of cheese on top. Place on a bun with a couple slices of avocado and crunchy lettuce.
14. Easy Chicken Parm
Cook a pre-breaded chicken breast (such as ALDI “red bag chicken”) in the oven. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add a spoonful of pasta sauce and a slice of mozzarella cheese on top and bake until melted and bubbly. Eat on top of pasta.
15. Snack Dinner
This is one of the easiest dinner ideas for teens because–no cooking! Build a swoon-worthy snack dinner with things like whole grain crackers, cheese, charcuterie or leftover grilled meat, veggies and dip, and fruit.
16. Avocado Toast
Top 1-2 slices toast with mashed avocado (mix with a squeeze of lemon juice and pinch of salt). Top with a fried egg. Serve with fruit or a smoothie.
17. Speedy Meatball Sub
Heat a few frozen meatballs with a little jarred spaghetti sauce in a saucepan until hot. Spoon saucy meatballs onto a toasted sub or brat bun, top with shredded mozzarella, and pop under the broiler or in the toaster oven until cheese is melted.
18. Waffle Iron Grilled Apple-Cheese
Spray a waffle iron with cooking spray. Butter one side of two slices of bread. When waffle iron is preheated, place one slice butter-side-down. Top with cheese and thinly sliced apple, top with second slice (butter-side-up) and close iron. Cook until brown and melty.
19. Chicken & Waffles
Use either leftover/prepped chicken breast or a breaded, frozen chicken breast. Serve on top of 1-2 freezer waffles, drizzled with a quick sauce of softened butter, honey, and pinch of cayenne or hot sauce.
20. Tik-Tok Wrap
Start with a large, burrito-sized tortilla. Put fillings in the four quadrants (such as turkey/cheese/spinach/and pesto or pepperoni/mozzarella/mushrooms/sauce), then slice and fold it as shown in this tortilla wrap hack post and heat in a skillet until browned and melty.
5 simple recipes for teens to make
Here are a few easy recipes that teens can make themselves–without a lot of cooking time.
Instant Pot Mac-n-Cheese Cooks in four minutes! Stir in (cooked) frozen peas or canned tuna for extra veggies and protein.
Ham & Cheese Pinwheels Your teen can swap in the deli meat and cheese they like best.
Air Fryer Tofu Nuggets Serve with favorite dipping sauce and cooked frozen veggies.
Mini Calzones Use favorite pizza fillings and serve with bagged salad and pizza sauce for dipping.
Homemade Hummus Spoon hummus inside a pita bread, add cucumbers, sliced bell peppers, and fresh spinach (and have lots of leftovers for snacks during the week).
Questions About Healthy Dinner Ideas For Teens
Below, you’ll find the answers to common questions parents have about healthy dinners for teens:
- My teen wants to drink a protein shake for dinner–is that okay? Go to answer
- My teens are picky eaters. What can they have for dinner? Go to answer
- What can my vegetarian or vegan teen eat for dinner? Go to answer
- I need to feed a big group of teens. What should I make? Go to answer
- My teen sometimes skips dinner. Is that a big deal? Go to answer
My teen wants to drink a protein shake for dinner–is that okay?
It’s common for teens to become interested (and sometimes fixated) on protein, especially teen athletes. Protein powder is a quick, convenient way to get calories and nutrients. But keep in mind they may pack more protein than your teen really needs and may contain a lot of ingredients that make it a fairly processed product (read more about protein powder and protein for teens here). Bottom line: It’s fine occasionally for a quick meal replacement, but not a regular dinner.
My teens are picky eaters. What can they have for dinner?
The best approach with picky teens is to avoid pressure. They may already be self-conscious about their limited menu, even if they don’t show it. Be sure there are some healthy options they like at meals, and involve them with grocery shopping and building a meal plan. And take heart: Their taste buds and preferences may change over time (as a former picky eater myself, I can say mine did!). Here are some more ideas and reassurances: How to Help Your Teenager With Picky Eating.
What can my vegetarian or vegan teen eat for dinner?
If your teen is avoiding meat (or animal products altogether), they can still get the nutrients they need. But it’s key that they’re not simply cutting out meat–without replacing it with something else. For instance, adding foods like beans, lentils, tofu, and nuts will all provide protein and iron, like in my Kid-Approved Tofu Bowl and Red Lentil Soup. Another idea: Swap regular pasta for chickpea pasta for extra protein and iron.
I need to feed a big group of teens. What should I make?
My Instant Pot Spaghetti Sauce is a great recipe for a group. I recently made it for a pack of college kids. Boil a couple pounds of spaghetti and serve with some bagged salads. My Slow Cooker Taco Meat is another good recipe for a crowd. Serve with hard and soft shells and a variety of toppings and let everyone build their own.
My teen sometimes skips dinner. Is that a big deal?
Teenagers are going through major growth and development, but their diets are among some of the worst of all the age groups, according to the most recent Dietary Guidelines For Americans. Skipping dinner ups the chance that teens are missing out on nutrients they really need. For a teenage girl, nutrients of concern are iron, protein, folate, and vitamin B6. All teens are at risk for falling short on phosphorus, magnesium, and choline. And all kids (and adults) could use more fiber. Here are some dinner foods that help teens meet their needs:
- Iron (girls): Beans, lentils, beef, tofu
- Protein (girls): Beans, quinoa, yogurt, beef, tofu
- Folate (girls): Enriched grains, spinach, broccoli, oranges, bananas
- Vitamin B6 (girls): Chickpeas, potatoes, beef, chicken, cottage cheese
- Vitamin B12 (girls): Salmon, beef, milk, yogurt, nutritional yeast
- Phosphorus (girls & boys): Yogurt, cheese, lentils, cashews, brown rice
- Magnesium (girls & boys): Chia seeds, almonds, edamame, peanut butter, potatoes
- Choline (girls & boys): Eggs, beef, chicken, beans, Brussels sprouts
- Fiber (everyone): Oats, whole grain bread and pasta, fruits and vegetables, beans
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