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How to Feed Teenagers in the Summer

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Between different sleep patterns, erratic schedules, and a growing sense of independence, it’s not uncommon for our always-hungry teenagers to begin feeding themselves more and more in the summertime. While this is great in some ways, it can also have its struggles such as a dependence on snack foods and super messy kitchens. To help you navigate this stage, I’m sharing my advice on how to feed teenagers in the summer.

how to feed teenagerss in the summer

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Over the years I have shared advice on a number of the challenges that we parents face when it comes to feeding our kids in the summer (for instance, how to feed kids who are always hungry in the summer, how to pack summer camp lunches, and how to navigate summertime treats). In addition, I have shared my thoughts on the challenges of feeding teenagers (e.g., how to feed teens on a budget and lunch ideas for teens). But this year, as my two high-school-aged sons settle firmly into the teenage years, I came across a new challenge that I had to figure out: how to feed teenagers in the summer.

While a lot of the advice I’ve offered before still works well for this group, the reality is that there are added struggles in the summer, thanks to their erratic schedules as well, ironically, as their growing independence. So, I wanted to share the things that my family has done so that my teen sons are getting healthy, well-rounded meals, while also ensuring that the kitchen isn’t always a complete and total disaster area (they haven’t gotten so good at the cleaning up after themselves part yet…).

The Teenager Summer Schedule

One of the main reasons that feeding teenagers in the summer is such a struggle is their schedule. While during the school year teens have to get up early to get to school on time, any free weeks they have in the summer likely involve two things: staying up and sleeping in late. This is because their bodies release melatonin (the hormone that helps us to fall asleep) later at night than the bodies of younger children and adults – yup, their internal clocks are actually different than ours.

What this means, though, is that they naturally start their eating schedules later, which can throw their patterns off for the entire day. So, their first meal might not be until 10am, 11am, or even 12pm, maybe they’ll eat dinner at the normal time, but then, when they’re up late at night, the desire for a third (or fourth or fifth) meal of the day can get pretty intense.

In addition, when you add any social plans or later shift jobs such as waitressing into the mix, all of a sudden the schedule can be completely thrown off, resulting in late night kitchen raids, which are often made up of lots of snack foods and little else.

teen cooking

The Double-Edged Sword of Growing Independence

The other challenge, which is actually also an opportunity, that comes into play when we’re trying to feed teenagers in the summer is their growing independence. During the school year, teenagers’ schedules can be so busy that finding time to prepare meals on their own might be a challenge. In the summer, however, the extra time they enjoy can be an chance for them to begin experimenting in the kitchen.

This is wonderful because they are learning important life skills they will need as they launch into young adulthood, but the reality is that this experimentation can also lead to a lot of mess, as well as the risk of wasted food if a dish doesn’t come out the way they expected.

Given this scenario, the question then becomes: is there a way to encourage teenagers to feed themselves without turning the kitchen into a complete and utter mess, while also minimizing the risk of tossed food? Spoiler: the answer is yes!

teenagers eating

How to Feed Teenagers in the Summer

While these challenges are real and can definitely lead to tension in the household, there are some steps that you can take both to help your teenagers to have access to healthy, well-rounded meals and to encourage self-sufficiency without it resulting in an overwhelming mess in the kitchen greeting you the following morning.

Plan with Your Teen(s)

One of the great things about teens is that, even if they may not act like it, they do want to be taken seriously and given the opportunity to be self-sufficient. So, the first step is to sit down with them to figure out a plan.

I recommend that you sit down with your teen(s) and explain to them that you’ve noticed that in the summer their schedule is such that they are eating meals at different times. Be clear that this is fine and normal, but that you want to help them to make sure that 1) they are still getting healthy, well-rounded meals, 2) that they use this as an opportunity to improve their cooking skills, and 3) that you are not faced with a huge mess when after they’re done cooking (or in the morning).

The next step in the conversation is to brainstorm solutions with them. Some questions to start the conversation with include:

  • What foods or dishes would you like to be eating (within the realm of reality, of course)?
  • What meals would you like to learn to cook?
  • What do you need to know in order to keep the kitchen clean?
Creamy Ricotta Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes

Meal ideas

Sometimes, when trying brainstorm meal ideas with your teens, you can be met with a giant shrug or blank stare. If that’s the case, here are some easy meal ideas that you can pitch to them. These suggestions are tasty and hard to mess up, which will hopefully help the to achieve success (and reduce food waste):

And there are also always great no-cook options such as:

Stock the Freezer

If your kid isn’t into cooking or you want to decrease the chances of a big mess in the kitchen, then another options is to fill your freezer with easy to reheat meals that your teens can grab for themselves. Some of my family’s favorites include:

washing dishes

Teach Them How to Do Dishes

Now that we’ve got them feeding themselves, the next step is to make sure they clean up afterwards. After all, who wants to come down in the morning to a kitchen that looks like a bomb went off in it overnight?!

A reality that I have encountered with many families, though, is that while kids may have learned how to clean their rooms, do their laundry, vacuum, etc., one life skill they have yet to master is cleaning the kitchen.

This can happen because the knowledge is assumed (cleaning the kitchen just seems obvious to us parents since we’ve been doing it for so long) and/or a parent or both parents have trouble relinquishing control over this task (“no one can load the dishwasher like I can”). What this means, of course, is that we are expecting our teenagers to do something they don’t actually know how to do, which isn’t exactly fair.

So, we have to teach them.

In my experience, learning how to effectively clean the kitchen is about understanding the expectations and being shown (sometimes patiently, but repeatedly) the most efficient ways to do things. Here are some of the tasks that I have found kids actually need to be taught when it comes to cleaning the kitchen:

  • How much rinsing (or no rinsing) you like to have done to dishes before they go into the dishwasher
  • Where different items fit best in the dishwasher
  • Which dishes go in the dishwasher and which do not
  • How to wash dishes in the sink, both to get things effectively clean and not waste water
  • How to best wipe down counters
  • How to pack up leftover food for safe storage in the fridge

Bonus Tip

If getting your kids to wash the pots and pans is proving to be too difficult, consider getting some dishwasher-safe ones so that they can just be rinsed and thrown in the dishwasher.

In the end, remember that patience is key. These changes in schedule are to be expected and, as teens, they are still learning these important life skills. And, in the end, the more we can help them to grow independent and self-sufficient, the happier the household will be!

Do you have tricks that help you to feed teenagers in the summer? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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