Feeding teenagers can be tough! Here are some snack and meal ideas for teens, plus strategies to keep them well-nourished.
My teenager was wandering the kitchen recently, opening the refrigerator, freezer, and cupboard doors, when he said something that drove home what teen hunger feels like: “What happens is that I’m hungry, so I eat something and feel full. Then 10 minutes later I’m hungry again, and it’s like I’ve eaten nothing. And that keeps repeating forever and ever.”
The teen appetite surge is no joke. And feeding teenagers can be tough. It’s not always easy to make sure your teenager is satisfying their hunger with (mostly) nourishing foods.
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Nutrients teens really need
Among all kids, diet quality is lowest among those ages 14-18, according to the most recent Dietary Guidelines For Americans. That means they’re at risk for not getting the nutrients they need. Here are nutrients teens may be lacking, according to a scientific report–plus food sources that can help fill the gap:
- Iron (girls): Fortified cereal, 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): Nutritional yeast, salmon, beef, milk, yogurt
- 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
Why feeding teenagers can be tough
Why is diet quality sub par among teenagers? Though their appetites may be big, a few things conspire to make it tougher for them to get what they need:
- More independence: They’re making more food decisions independently, with their own money–and those choices are often influenced by what their friends eat too.
- Marketing: Fast food, soda, and sweets are all heavily marketed to teenagers, including on the online platforms they use every day.
- Busy schedules: Between homework, sports, clubs, and social lives, teenagers are less willing and able to sit down to eat meals and snacks. That means more grab-and-go convenience foods.
7 Ideas For Feeding Teenagers
Last year I took steps to make nourishing foods easier and more convenient for my teenager to choose at home. I dubbed it “Operation: Feed The Hungry Teen“. Here’s a round-up of those ideas–I hope they will help you too!
1. Freezer Breakfast Sandwiches or Burritos
Make a big batch to tuck into your freezer and reheat for an easy, hearty breakfast, lunch, or snack. Here’s how to make these Make-Ahead Breakfast Sandwiches (the post includes instructions for reheating them too). You can do the same with burritos. These are filled with scrambled egg, sausage, cheese, and some cooked diced peppers.
2. Jars of Trail Mix
Fill a jar with a combo of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cereal pieces, chocolate chips, granola, pretzels, popcorn, or whatever else your kids like. They can shake out a handful of the filling mixture when hunger strikes.
3. Prepped Lunches
Make extra food at dinnertime and portion it into heat-and-serve containers (I got my containers at Costco but these glass food prep containers look similar). Need more healthy lunch ideas for teens? Check out 40 Easy Lunch Ideas For Kids At Home
4. Homemade Bars + Snack Bites
Make a batch on Sunday so your teen can grab them all week. Check out these simple kid-approved recipes:
- Nut-Free Chocolate Chips Oat Bars
- Nut-Free Snack Balls
- Chocolate Granola Bars
- No-Baked Peanut Butter Balls
- Peanut Butter Quinoa Bars
- 26 Healthy Recipes for No-Bake Snack Balls
5. Pick-Me-Up Plates
Sometimes I just hand my kid food, assuming he’s hungry (he usually is). I started making “Pick Me Up Plates” this past year when my kids were doing school online. The plates are a mix of protein, carbs, and fats and include things like crackers, cheese, nuts, fruit, and veggies. It’s basically a small, nourishing snack on a plate–with a fun name.
6. Smoothie Packets
Make it easy for your teenager to make a smoothie by assembling bags (ziptop or reusable bags like these) with everything but the liquid. Your kid can empty the contents into the blender and add milk (dairy or non-dairy) and a dollop of yogurt. Or freeze cubes of yogurt to includes in your smoothie bags (here’s the food-grade ice cube tray I have and love). Too much effort for your tired teen? Blend up a smoothie and pour it into ice pop molds like these to freeze.
7. Satisfying Packaged Foods
Despite what you may have heard, there’s nothing wrong with buying food in packages. I don’t know how anyone could have teenagers in the house and NOT stock packaged foods! (I like to corral the shelf-stable ones in a container on the counter so they’re easy to spot and grab.) Here are some ideas for healthy packaged foods for teens:
- Frozen burritos
- Frozen waffles
- Meatless burgers and patties (we like Morningstar Farms Chik Patties)
- Cheese sticks
- Bars (we like Perfect and Clif)
- Whole grain crackers (we like Triscuits and Wasa)
- Granola (for trail mix or making yogurt parfaits)
- Beef and turkey jerky
- Dried and freeze-dried fruit
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grain cereal (we like shredded wheat and Cheerios)
- Instant oatmeal packets
- Single-serve nut and seed butter packets
- Fruit cups (packed in juice)
- Tubs of hummus and guacamole
- Roasted chickpeas
- Shelf-stable boxes of plain and flavored milk
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