Raising healthy teenagers is no easier than raising healthy toddlers. The fueling challenges are just different. For example, yesterday my teenager ate an entire tray of lasagna for his after school “snack.” I came home as he was finishing up, and the first words out of his mouth while he stood over a sink of dirty dishes was, “what’s for dinner, mom?” Sigh. It seems like teenagers are always hungry but not always interested (or have the time) to put together their own meal. You want them to be independent, but you don’t want them to always choose chips and cookies. Here are a couple fueling strategies I’ve learned over the years for feeding kids who seem to grow inches overnight.
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Find Nutritious Ways to Fill Their Bellies
You know how as adults, we eat smoothies as a meal? Well, for my teenagers, I’ve found offering smoothies WITH a meal can help not only curb hunger until the next meal, but pack in a lot of well needed produce. Prepping individual freezer bags with all smoothie ingredients (minus the milk) helps save time in the morning. Pre-prepped smoothie bags make it more likely they’ll blend up a drink when I’m not around.
Serving up the Right Snack for their Attack
When the kids come home from school or after practice, this tends to be the time of the day when they’re the most hungry. Before the week begins, I walk them through the snacks I have on hand in the pantry or fridge. Keeping healthy snacks front and center makes it more likely they will choose apples and peanut butter over chips and dip. Here are a few snacks we keep on hand:
- Banana or apple with nut butter
- Greek yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese with fruit
- Healthy bagel with cream cheese
- Healthy cereals with nuts and fruit
- Shake and go smoothie with PB2 (powdered peanut butter)
- String cheese with fruit
- Fresh fruit and nuts
- Granola with dried fruit and nuts
- Larabars or other granola bars with short ingredient lists
- Veggies with hummus
Cook in Bulk
Cooking whole grains such as quinoa or rice can serve as a nutritious base for a quick, inexpensive meal. For example, this week, I cooked more quinoa than the recipe below (Instant Pot Quinoa with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans) calls for so we had extra. Grains cooked in bulk can be repurposed. Monday night we ate it as a filling in tacos partnered with chicken and on Wednesday I stirred what was leftover into a vegetarian chili. Growing, active teenagers need carbohydrates. And, they go through them fast, so batch cooked grains gets me ahead of growling stomachs.
Balance Out The Control
I know my teenagers won’t always make healthy choices on their own, such as when they are at school or out with a friend for a meal. Therefore, I want to empower them with healthy options when I can. Offering healthy options when they are most hungry, like breakfast and dinner makes it easier to get buy-in.
Hold My Tongue
I’ll be honest, I sometimes have to hold back comments when I see them filling up their cereal bowl for the 3rd time at 10 pm. Asking him why he’s eating again doesn’t seem to be productive. Instead, all I can do is keep the healthiest versions of their preferred cereals on hand and encourage them to top his cereal with fruit.
Put Them To Work
Now that I have teenagers, I can actually kick back a little and encourage them to help out with meal planning and prep. Getting them involved is not only fun for me, but they seem to enjoy our family dinners more when they had a say about what is getting served. While it was fun when they were younger to let them “help” in the kitchen, it’s actually takes a lot off my plate when I give them meaningful roles.
Guest Post by Nutrition Intern, Sandi Barrett, mother of 3 teenage children