If you have teenage children, you may have heard it before: "There's nothing to eat in this house!" Sure, you can do your part by buying lots of healthy foods but your teen can get involved too, by helping to prepare some of those foods. Why? When teens learn healthy cooking skills at home, they'll be more likely to plan balanced meals when they become responsible for their own food choices after they leave home.
To help your teen get cooking, stock your kitchen with these easy-to-prepare staples.
Who doesn't crave crunchy snacks? Invest in a popcorn popper! Popcorn is a whole grain, plus it's loaded with fiber for a healthy digestive system. Three air-popped cups deliver nearly four grams of fiber.
When it comes to making a quick meal, it doesn't get much easier than canned beans — just rinse, drain and heat! They're perfect for burritos, mashed on a tortilla, or added to canned soup for extra protein.
Even if teens have no clue how to cook, that doesn't mean they can't whip up a simple meal or snack. Nut and seed butters — such as peanut, almond or sunflower butter — all are perfect no-fuss foods for the novice cook. They're a cinch to spread on French toast with sliced bananas or make a tasty dip for apples, celery or bell pepper strips.
Whether fried, scrambled or hard-boiled, eggs are an easy protein food for teen cooks. With a prep and cook time of less than five minutes, eggs are an easy addition to any meal. They are a great source of protein, vitamin B12, choline and phosphorus – all essential nutrients for teens.
It doesn't matter whether they're fresh, frozen or canned, the more pre-prepped vegetables you have on hand, the more likely your teen will eat them. Think pre-cut baby carrots and grape tomatoes for snacks, frozen edamame and peas to add to pasta and diced tomatoes for chili.
Busy teens don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, but that doesn't mean dinner has to be a sandwich. Quick-cooking whole grains such as quinoa, instant brown rice and whole-wheat couscous take less than 15 minutes from start to finish. For a speedy meal, teens can toss cooked whole grains with microwaved frozen vegetables, season them with less-sodium soy sauce, and add a convenient source of protein, such as cooked frozen or canned chicken or seafood, canned beans or tofu.
When you teach teens basic cooking techniques you'll be amazed by how quickly they catch on. Start by showing them how to grill, bake or broil marinated chicken, fish or beef. Or, demonstrate how to sauté ground chicken or turkey, tempeh or tofu to add to spaghetti sauce, chili or tacos.
Before you know it, your teen will be telling you what's for dinner.
Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN is a nutrition consultant, journalist and author specializing in nutrition, health and wellness.
Find a Nutrition Expert
Looking for credible nutrition information and recommendations? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' network of credentialed food and nutrition practitioners are ready to help!