His appetite is insatiable and he’s eating you out of house and home, so how do you make sure your teenage boy is filling up on healthy nutritious food that won’t blow the family budget? HFG nutritionist Claire Turnbull has some helpful advice.
My teenage boy is constantly eating. I’m worried I’ll over-feed him
Teenage boys have high-energy needs as they are experiencing growth spurts which, when combined with sporting activities or whatever else they’re into, can mean they need lots of energy from food.
A moderately active 13-year-old boy is estimated to need around 11,000kJ/day (2600kcal) for example, and at 18 his energy need is closer to 14,000kJ (3300kcal). Very active teens will need even more.
If you’re happy your teenager is fit, active and appears to be a healthy weight and size then his natural appetite is the best guide to how much he needs to eat.
However, if he isn’t very active, is eating non-stop and gaining body fat, then it might be that he’s eating to entertain himself or using food as a coping strategy to manage a tough time. In this case, his ‘hunger’ might not match his energy needs and it might be helpful to look beyond food to see what your teen needs to do to keep busy and/or manage his emotions without eating.
If you can, always encourage him to sit down to eat meals and snacks rather than mindlessly graze all day, and try to get him involved in making meals and snacks. This is a great way for him to learn how to prepare healthy meals, rather than you always doing it for him.
If you have concerns about your teenager’s weight or growth, it’s best to see your GP or a qualified dietitian or nutritionist.
He sometimes eats 6-8 Weet-Bix for breakfast. Is this normal?
Totally normal. When my brothers were in their teens, they’d fill a mixing bowl with cereal and milk and eat it with a giant spoon — mostly when my mum wasn’t watching!
Teenage boys with high-energy needs and big appetites rely on big servings and gravitate towards starchy foods. Anyone with a growing lad knows how quickly breakfast cereal, bread and pasta disappear.
While energy-dense, carbohydrate-rich foods help to fill up busy, active teenagers, it’s just as important that they eat enough protein and healthy fats to fill them up and support healthy growth. Healthy fats such as those in plant oils, nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish are great for the body and brain too.
Fibre is crucial in helping your teen feel full — it’s also good for their bowels — and as most Kiwi teenage boys don’t get enough fibre, it’s certainly something to work on.
What meals give him the nutrition he needs?
- Poached or scrambled eggs on toast with baked beans and a glass of milk
- Wholegrain breakfast cereal with milk and yoghurt, plus sliced banana on toast with peanut butter
- Porridge made with milk, topped with sliced peaches or berries and chopped nuts, plus a glass of milk
- Omelette with veges and cheese with toasted wholemeal pita
- Homemade breakfast smoothies with banana, milk, yoghurt and oats. These contain much more protein and are much more filling than shop-bought liquid breakfast drinks that can also be expensive!
- Chicken, pasta salad made with veges, a piece of fruit and a yoghurt
- Toasted tuna and wholegrain cheese sandwiches, a handful of nuts and a yoghurt
- Leftover homemade pizza and fruit
- Wholemeal wraps with leftover cold meat, chicken or egg and salad
- Finger food-style lunch —chicken drumsticks (skin removed), sliced carrot, handful of nuts, fruit and a wholegrain peanut butter sandwich.
- Chilli mince (bulk out with 2 onions rather than one, grated carrot, 2 cans of kidney beans and an extra can of tomatoes ) with brown rice and peas, or any other veges
- Homemade hamburgers with a wholemeal bread bun, cheese, salad and kumara wedges
- Chicken stir-fry with egg noodles or brown rice and heaps of veges
- Homemade healthy roast — lean roasted meat or chicken (try our Step-by-step reduced-fat roast chicken dinner) with pumpkin, kumara, potato and plenty of greens.
What snacks can I give him to keep him full between meals?
Think of a snack as a mini meal rather than a sweet treat. Snacks that combine protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats are ideal. Here are some ideas — some are portable, others are best eaten at home.
- Smoothies. Create filling and healthy combos with fruit and/or veges. Think spinach, milk, yoghurt, oats, ground seeds (LSA, for example), avocado and peanut butter.
— Banana, milk, yoghurt, oats and peanut butter
— Frozen berries, banana, milk, yoghurt, 1/4 avocado
— Banana, berries, spinach, milk, yoghurt and ground seeds
— Banana, avocado, milk, cocoa powder and a drizzle of honey
- Cottage cheese on wholegrain toast or crackers. Assure fussy teenagers that cottage cheese will help their muscles grow and they might be convinced!
- Yoghurt with cereal and chopped fruit
- Canned tuna or salmon, or if they are up for it, sardines with wholegrain toast, pita bread or crackers
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich
- Beans on toast with avocado
- A cup of thick, filling soup
- Leftover rice, couscous or pasta with tuna or salmon and a tomato
- A boiled egg or two
- Piece of fruit and 2 slices of cheese
- Handful of unsalted nuts and fresh fruit
- Wedge of frittata
- Homemade fruit and nut muesli slice, see www.healthyfood.com
- Overnight oats — oats soaked with milk, yoghurt with dried or frozen berries and nuts (try our Overnight oats recipes)
- Sushi — a great snack on the run
- Remember, water and low-fat milk are always the best drink choices.
He’s costing me a fortune! How do I feed him without breaking the bank?
- Making your own yoghurt is more cost effective than buying it.
- Look for special deals on milk. These are often offered at petrol stations and fruit stores.
- Add trim milk powder to smoothies to boost protein and help them feel fuller for longer.
- Add pulses to your mince dishes, soups and casseroles to make them go further.
- Involve your teenager in food planning and shopping so he’s aware of the cost of what he’s eating.
- Make extra rice, pasta or couscous and when you’re serving a meal, set aside a portion he can eat the next day. He can mix it up with a can of tuna and veges as a healthy snack.
- Make a roast from a cheap cut so there’s always cold meat in the fridge.
- Freeze bananas (great for smoothies).
- Love your slow cooker — cheaper cuts of meat can make nourishing meals that go a long way!
- Opt for whole grains. Think oats or wholegrain breakfast cereals, dense grainy breads and brown rice.
- Keep the skin on. With starchy vegetables such as potato and kumara, it is best to leave the skin on to maximise the fibre.
- Fruit and veges. Encourage 2-3 serves of fruit and 3+ servings of veges a day.
- Load up on legumes. Add lentils or kidney beans to mince or chickpeas in a casserole or curry.
- Nuts and seeds. Eat as a snack or add to meals.
- Instant noodles: They’re cheap but often high in saturated fat, loaded with salt and very low in protein. Baked noodles are a better option than fried, but better still, try whole wheat couscous or precooked rice with a can of flavoured tuna or salmon
- Snack bars: Some are loaded with sugar and teenagers might need 3 or 4 to feel full
- Filling up on bread and nothing else
- Soft drinks and energy drinks
- Peer pressure to eat junk
Article sources and references
- Clinical Trials Research Unit & Synovate. 2010. A national survey of children and young people’s physical activity and dietary behaviours in New Zealand: 2008/09 - Key findings. Wellington: Ministry of Healthhttps://www.health.govt.nz/publication/national-survey-children-and-young-peoples-physical-activity-and-dietary-behaviours-new-zealand-2008
- Hartmann C et al. Importance of cooking skills for balanced food choices. Appetite 65:125-31https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23402717
- Hodgkin E. et al. 2010. Obesity, energy intake and physical activity in rural and urban New Zealand children. Rural and Remote Health 10: 1336https://www.rrh.org.au/journal/article/1336
- Ministry of Health. 2012. Food and nutrition guidelines for healthy children and young people (aged 2–18 years): A background paper. Partial revision February 2015. Wellington: Ministry of Health.https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/food-nutrition-guidelines-healthy-children-young-people-background-paper-feb15-v2.pdf
- National Health and Medical Research Council & Ministry of Health. Dietary Energy www.nrv.gov. au/dietary-energy Accessed May 2015https://www.nrv.gov.au/dietary-energy