Tips to help keep teenagers well fed

Tips to help keep teenagers well fed

Tips to help keep teenagers well fed

A very common question I get is how do you keep teenagers well fed? And I understand why this question is asked! With five kids now aged 24, 21, 19, 16 and 14 all living at home, keeping enough food in the house to keep everyone well fed and satisfied is challenging – especially if some of them are doing a bulk! To answer this question I will go through the basic principles and then add examples of what this looks like in reality at our place.

Before I go any further I need to state that I am not a nutritionist or any form of health expert and do not pretend to be. What I offer in this post is an example of what we do and some resources you can use to help you make sure your teenagers are well fed. Please do not take this as nutrition or medical advice 🙂.

The first resource I will point you to is the dietary guidelines for Australian teenagers. This PDF comes from and is based on the information published on the Federal Government website

While I don’t do a count each day of what foods from each food group the kids are eating when I am thinking about the food I cook and buy for the house, I certainly do have this at the forefront of my mind. Our kids are all quite active and have various fitness goals so this I also keep in mind when shopping and preparing food.

I certainly do buy packaged food items to help feed the teenagers (you will see what in the coming paragraphs) but I do try to make as much as I can. I am able to do this as I work part-time and have time to do it and I also like cooking. This doesn’t mean it is the way everyone should do it this way and it doesn’t mean if you buy more food the kids aren’t being fed well. I will be adding in suggestions if you don’t have time or the inclination to cook additional food for the kids.

Plan ahead

One of the most effective ways to ensure that your teenager eats well is to plan ahead. Taking some time every week to plan your meals (or you can do it monthly as I do) and creating a shopping list for the week that includes food for lunches and snacks will mean that you start the week off on the right foot. When I plan our weekly meals I make sure that on the weekends I include meals that I can cook in double quantities that I know the kids love and will eat for other meals during the week.

For example, when I cook spag bol, one of the kids will happily have this for breakfast, another will take it in a thermos to school for lunch and another will have some pasta as a snack before heading to the gym. I basically cook twice as much spag bol as I need each time so it can cover other meals like this. In this post on the blog Easy recipes to make in bulk and help with meal prep I share some of my key recipes that work well for this.

Meal prep on the weekend

Doing meal prep on the weekend is not something everyone wants to do but it is a really great way to make sure you have enough food on hand during the week to feed hungry teenagers well and quickly. You can see my meal prep process in action here.

It has evolved significantly over the years. I started off just making a sweet and savoury item for the kids’ lunch boxes and it has expanded to make food for my lunches, additional food to eat during the week, condiments and prep food for some meals during the week if I have time. Each week I post my weekly meal prep photos and links to the recipes I use on Facebook. If you would like to see the posts and also find some inspiration from what followers of Planning With Kids are meal prepping you can find them here.

The veggies I cut up on the weekend only last a few days at most, so whenever I am cutting up veggies for an evening meal I always do extra to restock the fridge so there is always some on hand ready to go. On weeks where I only make something like muffins for the sweet treat that has a small quantity, I will try and make something else midweek so we make it to the end of the week.

You also might find these posts helpful if you are new to meal prep:

If meal prep isn’t your thing or you don’t have time for it then you could consider these options:

  • buying precut veggies
  • getting the kids to cook
  • buying items that the kids can easily heat up or cook themselves that are nutritious and will work well for lunches and after school snacks
  • in this podcast, a single mum shares how she outsources the cutting of her weekly vegetables using Airtasker so she can spend her time on other things

Involve your teenager in meal planning and preparation

Teenagers like all kids can have distinct preferences on what they do and don’t want to eat both for meals at home and what they take to school to eat. If you follow my menu planning process you will see that having the teenagers contribute to the menu plan is a key step in this process. I have also found that teenagers’ tastes can change frequently. What they were once happy to eat, they no longer really love or foods they used to avoid they are now happy to eat. Having constant communication on the foods they do and don’t like to eat is super helpful to avoid food waste and hangry teenagers!

As the kids have grown up they have all had at times an allocated task of helping me cook a meal in the kitchen, cooking a sweet treat and/or cooking a meal during the week. I have also spent time teaching each of them how to make basic things like:

  • Scrambled eggs
  • Omelettes
  • Pasta
  • Smoothies
  • Steak
  • Muffins

It is important that the kids have the skills to be able to make food on their own as they get older. It takes time to teach them and at the start, they do make a bigger mess than is ideal but they get better at it. Not only does this save you work in the long term but it also gives them a sense of independence and needed life skills.

Stock up on key food items

Following on from teaching the kids to cook snacks/meals for themselves I endeveour to make sure we have in the fridge or pantry all the needed items for the snacks/meals. The food they cook definitely goes in phases so I try to keep up with them and change the items we have on hand to reflect what the dishes of the moment are.

I also make sure to have plenty of the following available:

  • fresh fruit and veg
  • nuts and seeds
  • yogurt
  • tuna
  • rice
  • crackers / corn chips / wraps
  • salsa / dip
  • protein powder (for post workout)

Even with all this planning and prep, I still see the teenager occasionally open the fridge, stare blankly at it, and walk away dissatisfied with what they see. Sometimes their dissatisfaction is valid – it is like “Old Mother Hubbard” but if this is the case, it is most likely the end of the week and they are actually capable of going to the local supermarket to pick something up! We have an agreement with the kids that they can purchase items at the supermarket if they know we are out or if they feel like a particular item and we will reimburse them. (We will only reimburse them for items that I would usually buy for them to eat, so they cannot buy a ton of junk food and think that is going to work!)

Other times their complaints of having nothing to eat are not valid. There simply isn’t anything they really feel like or they are tired/bored/grumpy. I do my very best to ignore these complaints, knowing that if they are really hungry they will get something to eat from the available options.

What about you? What tips do you have to share to help keep teenagers well fed?

Comments 10

  1. What a great blog post Nicole, well done! It can be a real challenge feeding kids (at all stages) and teenagers present their own challenges. One challenge we have in our household is that our kids are often not hungry in the morning and don’t want to eat before school. I always encourage them not to eat if they are not hungry but this challenge is that they won’t get to eat until recess by which time they are starving! One solution is that I have Up&Go available that they can grab and go as liquids are often easier. In an ideal world I would prefer they make a homemade smoothie but this is not realistic in then morning due to time constraints. While Up&Go is processed, it is still a source of protein and carbs to help fuel their brain.

    Another challenge we have is with met daughter who dances 6 days a week and often till late at night. She does not like to eat dinner before dancing but this means she lands up eating dinner around 9:30pm at night just before bed which can affect her sleep. As a solution I make sure there is a decent snack ready for her when she gets home from school (e.g. bircher muesli with yoghurt, oats and fruit) or a muesli slice so she gets a big hit of protein, fibre and carbs to fuel her before dancing and then has a small diner when she gets home.

    My son (who is a tweenager going through big growth spurts) eats a fortune. He will often have a big after school snack and then is starving before dinner. I actually think this is fine and remind him that it’s ok to be hungry and he will enjoy his diner more! I think parents often worry if their child is hungry (starts from when they are young) and we need to remember that being hungry is ok and it’s important for the body not to eat the whole day but rather have set meal and snack times.

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      Thanks so much for sharing your ideas and expertise Teri! I too have learnt that wanting perfection in a teenager’s diet is stressful and can cause lots of issues. So much better to find something that works and is good enough :).

    2. I’ve just started to accept that my 10-year-old is not being picky at breakfast… he’s just not hungry. I’m also seeking to embrace this cue from his body, especially since there were phases in the past when it was more pickiness or a sort of control issue and I still needed him to eat because his body needed AM fuel.

      Luckily, his teacher appears to let them eat at their desk at school as long as they don’t eat anything messy. I am surprised by that policy, but we’re rolling with it.

      I used to focus on giving a nutritionally-dense breakfast, and allow a little more snacki-ness in his lunch since I knew he was often distracted by friends or rushing to go play. When I agreed to let go of the breakfast thing, I did so with the agreement that he would make sure he’s focusing on his lunch and not rushing through it. So the snacky lunch became food to eat at his desk, and we swapped in a lot of leftover options for the main lunch meal.

      I work in public health, and I have found it very interesting that nearly half of local high school students report they don’t eat breakfast. From a traditional nutritional standpoint, this is considered a problem that needs to be addressed by getting kids to eat breakfast. But watching my own child, I wonder if it would be better addressed by ensuring that when they get hungry later in the day, they have nourishing options available to them.

      1. Hi Shae

        You raise a very valid point that many children are simply not hungry in the morning. I am a dietitian and I also find this a challenge as the research indicates that we need to educate children (and adults!) to respond to their body hunger cues. But ion practise this is challenging if there are not opportunities to eat at school when a child is hungry. I think it is great that the teachers let the kids eat at their desks but this can also result in some kids snacking ongoing when they are not hungry and could also be a distraction.

        The old school thought that breakfast is the most important meal of the day has been disproven. However, there is also evidence that after an overnight fast, children do need fuel to feed their brains. This could be addressed by allowing children to have a small protein and carbohydrate-rich snack sometime in the morning before recess. And as you point out, if children are hungrier later in the day, providing healthy snacks could ensure that are well fed for when they are hungry and have enough energy to keep them going later in the day.

  2. This is awesome. Thanks so much, looking forward to following some of those hyperlinks and taking a further dive into your fab ideas. This infornation and your generous sharing is very much appreciated!!!

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  3. Hey Nic, timely and I hadn’t seen that Raising Children’s download. Will be very useful for my 14yo to see visually. Thanks

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  4. Pingback: Tips for maintaining harmony in a large family - Planning With Kids

  5. I really appreciate you sharing that your kids’ preferences change over time. This is something I REALLY struggle with when it shows up in my 10-year-old because I have no memory of finding a food delicious one week and struggling to even put it in my mouth the next week (his example might be extreme, lol). I’ve put a lot of time into creating a menu that is both nourishing, diverse, AND well-liked by him, but maybe instead I should be putting that energy toward training him to help me with the meal planning so I have better buy-in.

    My son grew 4 inches last year, and I felt like I was constantly preparing food for him – and we haven’t even hit the teenage years. This is another reminder that making sure he has some basic skills might really help when the big appetites hit – he can scramble his own egg or put together his own burrito if I have the ingredients ready at hand. Last summer I was working full time and didn’t hit my goal to get him some basic cooking experience while he was home every day for lunch, but I’ll take the small win that he can boil water on the stove for ramen and operate the toaster oven without burning himself or burning down the house, which I guess is more skill than he had before the summer. This year I’m working part time, and I’ll try to give it more attention. Thanks for your tips. I love learning from the experience of other moms, especially when they’ve really put some thought into their systems!

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