5 Meal Planning Tips for Families with Teens

If you’re reading this blog, you already know that meal planning for a household with teenagers can be very challenging. Teens are always hungry, constantly looking for something to eat, and suddenly adopt strange diets. Their growing bodies need a LOT of calories. According to the National Institute of Health, depending on their activity level, teenage boys need between 2,000-3,200 calories a day, girls between 1,600-2,400. Face it, they’re off the kiddie menu and eating adult portions and we’ve got to change our mindset and plan accordingly. Here are some tips that I’ve learned to keep us eating at home (more) and not running to the nearest pizza place.

In a Bowl, On A Bun: You’ve been planning family meals for at least a dozen years now (that’s 4,380 meals!) and you’ve run out of ideas. Try thinking about it differently. Instead of focusing on a main ingredient, think of how the meal will be served. Here’s a little ditty I came up with to help:

In a bowl,
On a bun,
With a noodle,
On the run,
With no meat,
Now repeat,
Anything that’s left to eat. 

It’s basically self-explanatory. Although I do take some liberties with how I define “bun” (anything hand-held: bun, bread, tortilla, taco shell, wrap, pizza crust) and “noodle” (any kind of starch: rice, potatoes, and pasta, of course).  We plan for at least one dinner that’s prepared by someone else–either a frozen meal, a rotisserie chicken, or something from the drive through window. My favorite is when I pull all the left-overs out of the fridge and we have our own version of a smorgasbord for dinner. A little of this, a little of that. If the left-overs are thin, I supplement with a salad, french fries, cheese cubes, and/or our go-to Chinese meatballs (2 ingredients and delicious–see below). I find it very satisfying to not waste food by using up what we already have and clean out the fridge at the same time.

Cross-Reference the Family Calendar:  There’s no point in planning a meal that takes 30 minutes or more to prepare when you’ll be racing from work to a track meet before heading home to cook dinner at 7:30. And if your teen has a job, factor in their work schedule as well. (It took too long for me to realize that my daughter’s regular 5-9 Saturday shift meant that I needed to have something ready for her to eat before she left for work!) On days like these, your slow cooker is your best friend. Your second-best friend is the one who taught you this next trick.

3. Cook It Forward: I learned this trick from my mother-in-law. Plan to have dinner already prepared and ready to reheat in the microwave.  Cook dinner the night before-after you’ve already eaten- and save it for the next day. Think casseroles, soup, stews, taco meat, or, our family favorite–grilled chicken legs.

4. Double Up: My family loves leftovers for lunch. But as my daughters became teenagers, I discovered that we rarely had anything left over. So, I learned to double the recipes, and to do that, I had to learn to double the ingredients when shopping. So, I now buy extra; 1 is good, 2 is better. Last night was a double batch of chili, for the 4 of us; we had enough left over for lunches today.

5. Post your weekly menu: Your teen is always thinking about food, and it’s comforting to them knowing that you’ve got dinner already figured out. It’ll reduce the repeated “What’s for dinner?” barrage and works as a preventative measure to their requests to eat out. Plus, it holds you accountable. It doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy, it just has to be visible. Here’s my system, using a Post-It pad I found in the clearance bin:

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I’d love to hear your tips for meal planning. I’ve pinned some of our family’s favorite recipes on the Ripples and Rip Tides Pinterest page. See you there!