Have you ever noticed a woman at the supermarket purchasing jumbo-sized boxes of breakfast cereal and milk in giant 3 litre containers? When you spot one, you can be sure that you have come face to face with the mother of a teenager, most likely a teenage boy. Parents of teenagers are routinely shocked at the sheer volume of food that their teenagers can eat, especially after school. And the truth is that mini sized snack bars and slices of toast are simply not going to cut it, when it comes to feeding teens, things have to get a little more serious.
Children and teens alike will be ravenously hungry after school for a number of reasons. Firstly it is likely to have been several hours since lunch and teenage boys will often eat all the food they have packed at recess. Next there is the scenario in which many teens will not eat a lot at school preferring to play sport or spend the time with friends. Then there are the teens that have particularly high energy demands due to natural growth patterns, significant sporting commitments or due to hormonal changes.
While the calorie requirements of teenagers will range widely depending on age, stage of growth, genetics and activity levels the average teenage boy will require between 1800-2600 calories per day, or almost 1/3 more than the average adult. Teenage girls need more too, although not quite as much given their smaller body size and earlier growth during the adolescent period and will require between 1800-2200 calories per day, or an extra snack or two more compared to an adult female.
In order to get these extra calories, snacking is an important contributor to total calorie intake for busy teens and as such, the secret to snacking success after school is looking for options that will actually satisfy them. This means that the popular options such as potato chips, biscuits, snack bars and other packaged products served in small, individual sized packets do not serve an overly useful function when it comes to feeding and satisfying growing teens.
Nutritionally balanced after school snacks for teens need to contain a serve of protein along with some wholegrain carbohydrate – think a ‘mini meal’ with 300-500 calories per serve. Translated into a meaningful description, if the snack choice will not fill them up for at least 2 hours, it is not a good option. Wraps with meat or tuna, toasted sandwiches, wholegrain breakfast cereal, smoothies, milkshakes, leftovers or sushi are all appealing yet nutritionally balanced options that will help to fill hungry teens.
For teenage girls, emphasising the importance of developing good nutritional habits long term is crucial. As much of a teenage girls growth occurs during the early years of high school, and as many teens have a relatively sedentary lifestyle due to study demands and declining volumes of structured sport, excessive weight gain is common. Disturbed eating patterns are also a potential issue with recent research from Great Ormond Street Hospital finding that half of teenage girls were actively dieting to control their weight. As such, binge style eating after school with energy dense, high carbohydrate, highly processed snack foods including rice crackers, white bread, processed cereals and snack bars followed by a number of hours of sitting is a recipe for disaster. To avoid this scenario, snacks for girls should be nutritionally balanced, portioned controlled options such as wholegrain crackers, wraps, yoghurts and sushi with high fat foods, processed foods limited to a couple of times each week at most.
It is common for teenagers to seek out high fat, treat style foods more frequently once they have access to shops and to extra spending money. In the case of active teens that enjoy a little ‘junk’ as part of their high calorie diet, small occasionally treats a few times a week is unlikely to cause any harm, as long as their baseline diet, and regular afternoon snacks are generally good quality. This though, is with the exception of soft drinks, which should be featured in any diet as infrequently as possible.
Tips for feeding hungry teens
1. Use dinner leftovers as filling after school snacks
2. Make sure lunch choices contain protein to help prevent excessive hunger after school.
3. Keep cut up vegetables within eye sight in the fridge for kids to grab.
4. Eat dinner straight after school or as early as possible to avoid snack food binges.
5. If you do not want to teens to eat it, do not buy it.
6. Eliminate all soft drink and fruit juice instead encouraging milk or water as the drinks of choice.
7. Encourage your teen to get involved in meal preparation and prepare one meal each week.
8. Include ‘junk’ type foods in the diet once a week so you teen does not feel deprived.
9. Remember that blenders, smoothie makers and sandwich toasters can prepare filling nutritious snacks in minutes.
10. Encourage your teen to pack his/ her own lunch to help them ‘own’ their nutrition.
The best snacks for teens
1. Toasted ham and cheese sandwich
2. Brown rice and tuna
3. Breakfast cereal and milk
4. Banana Smoothie
5. Leftover pasta and sauce
1. Mountain bread wrap
2. Brown rice sushi roll
3. Greek yoghurt and berries
4. Cheese and crackers
5. Corn cakes with peanut butter