Article at a Glance

  • Provide your teen with healthy choices, but don’t nag or lecture.
  • Prepare healthy snacks ahead of time to make them easy to grab.
  • Preparing a well-thought-out grocery list will help discourage unhealthy and expensive impulse buys.


We recently had a mom ask us for advice on healthy ways to feed her teenage boy without breaking the bank. We thought it was a great question and decided to answer it here.

Teenage boys have a well-deserved reputation for being big eaters. Around late puberty, boys hit a growth spurt. They start putting on a lot of muscle mass and their height skyrockets. All those calories have to come from somewhere, which is why it feels like your fridge gets cleared out on a daily basis. If your teenager is healthy, physically active, and a normal weight, don’t worry too much about how many calories he is consuming. But if your son is already struggling with obesity, it is even more important to fuel his appetite with healthy options. Here are some great tips.

Don’t fall back on junk food

Junk food seems like an easy choice for keeping a growing boy full. Teenagers love it and it is cheap. But it is low in nutrition and develops unhealthy habits. Keeping junk food out of the house reduces the chance that your teen will grab it out of convenience. Most importantly, steer clear of saturated fat, which means keeping tabs on the ice cream. He’ll thank you later when his metabolism slows down.

Don’t make food a battle

You want your kids to eat healthy, but breathing down their necks isn’t going to help. Teens are learning to make their own choices. Provide healthy choices, but don’t nag or lecture. If your kids want special treats, create a junk food budget. Let them know that you plan on spending only so much on junk or processed foods. After that, if they want to eat it, they have to buy it. If they decide to blow their money on soda, that’s okay. Be a good example of healthy eating and know that eventually, it will help.

Make time for meals, especially breakfast

By making time for meals and planning ahead for when you aren’t home, you can help provide healthier and cheaper alternatives. Some of our worst and most expensive food purchases are made when we are in a rush—think vending machines and fast food restaurants. Mealtime not only lets you make sure that your kids are getting healthy choices, it is also an important time to connect as a family.

Make the healthy choice easiest

All of us, not just teenagers, are more likely to eat what is easy. By preparing healthy choices ahead of time, you make it more likely that your teen will grab something healthy. Try stocking your fridge with easy to grab items that your kids enjoy.

Pop it in the blender

Smoothies are a great way to get important vitamins while keeping all the fiber you lose when juicing. Throw in a little spinach and you can’t even taste it. You can even preassemble the ingredients and pop them in the freezer so that your teen only has to empty the contents of the bag in the blender.

Teach them to fend for themselves

Teenage boys are smart and totally capable of preparing simple meals. Food like eggs, wraps, smoothies, rice, potatoes, and burritos are easy to make. Plus, if they make it themselves, they are less likely to whine about eating it.

Plan for leftovers

When making dinner, try making extra that can be eaten later as leftovers. Either keep it in the fridge or stick it in portion-sized bags for freezing. To extend your meals inexpensively, try adding foods like brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grain pasta, quinoa, and beans.

Go big

Buying in bulk can often save a lot of money and with a teenager in the house, you rarely have to worry about food going bad.

Find cheap sources of protein

Protein is important, but you don’t need as much as you think. Kids only need about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day. If they are athletes, that amount goes up to 0.8 grams. Here are some great inexpensive options that are high in protein: eggs, milk, yogurt, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, nuts, lentils, beans, wheat bran, tuna, cottage cheese, nuts, and poultry.

Find less expensive, healthier options

Next time you head to the grocery store, here are some great substitutions you can make that are healthier and/or cheaper. Before you shop, try preparing a well-thought-out grocery list to help discourage unhealthy and expensive impulse buys.

Fresh fruit and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are often cheaper in the freezer section. Frozen veggies are easy to heat up and don’t require any prep or washing. Frozen fruit works great in a smoothie. You can even freeze spinach to add to smoothies later.

Soda and juice: Soda is high in sugar and contains no nutritional value. Instead, buy more milk. It is a great source of protein and calcium, and teens need lots of calcium for those growing bones. Take a careful look at “juices” before you buy: many of them contain very little juice and a lot of sugar. Instead, only buy 100% juice.

Chips: Most chips are loaded with sodium and fat and aren’t very filling. For the weight, they also cost a small fortune. Instead, grab some popcorn. It is high in fiber and much better for you. Peanuts and sunflower seeds are also other great choices. They have lots of protein and are inexpensive.

Boxed cereal: Cereal can get really expensive and much of it has a lot of added sugar and isn’t very filling. Instead, try oatmeal. It is easy to cook in the microwave and you can add variety by adding things like nuts, apples, peaches, and cinnamon.

Ice Cream: Ice cream is high in sugar and saturated fat. Indulging in an ice cream sundae can equal the same amount of calories and saturated fat as a full steak dinner! Instead, look at replacing ice cream with things like frozen yogurt or sherbet. Even better, throw some frozen bananas and strawberries in the food processor for a sweet, creamy treat.

Candy: If your teen has a sweet tooth, replace candy with dried fruits like raisins or mangoes. Chocolate-covered nuts or raisins are also much better for you than a candy bar.

Snack Cheat Sheet

If your teen needs help coming up with ideas, post this list on the fridge and make sure you have the ingredients on hand. And for more ideas, see our section on healthy recipes.

  • Sandwich on whole-grain bread
  • Whole-grain bagel topped with peanut butter
  • Low-fat yogurt or Greek yogurt with granola
  • Whole-grain toast with almond butter
  • Smoothie
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Trail Mix
  • Vegetables like baby carrots, bell peppers, and celery with hummus or low-fat yogurt dip
  • Mozzarella cheese sticks
  • Sliced apples with peanut or almond butter
  • Handful of almonds
  • Low-fat cottage cheese on whole grain crackers
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-grain tortilla wrap with peanut butter and a sliced banana
  • Parfait with low-fat yogurt and berries
  • Quesadilla with whole-wheat tortillas
  • Graham crackers with low-fat cream cheese
  • Carrot, pumpkin, or zucchini muffins
  • Banana dipped in frozen yogurt or chocolate
  • Baked potato topped with cheese
  • Eggs in a basket on whole-wheat bread
  • Fruit Freezies
  • On-The-Go Veggie McMuffin

More information:
Your Snack Time Wake Up Call
Healthy Ways to Help Overweight Teens
Eating Right When Eating Out
Making Family Meals as Easy as 1-2-3
How to Fight Portion Distortion
Want to Make Your Children Happier, Healthier, Smarter and More Well-Adjusted? Eat Dinner With Them!


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How to feed a teenage boy without breaking the bank

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