If you are a long-time follower of my blog, you know that I spend a lot of time talking about “kid-friendly” meals. However, after a fantastic seminar on “Feeding the Teenage Brain” at the School Nutrition Association Conference that I recently attended, I realized that I need to also spend some time making family mealtime more teen-friendly. Inspired by the speaker, Chef Shannon Schaefer, and the way that she really considers teens and their lifestyles in her school lunch meal-planning, I decided to think of some ways to make my family mealtimes more inviting to the almost teenager in my home.
Here are 5 “Chef Shannon” inspired ways to make family mealtime more teen friendly.
1: Meet their needs: Something pointed out during Chef Shannon’s workshop was that teens need a higher daily calorie content for their rapidly growing bodies. Teen girls aged 14-18 years old need 1800-2400 calories a day, and teen boys need a staggering 2000-3400 calories per day to accommodate for this period of rapid growth. Tossing a few chicken nuggets and carrot sticks on a plate, might work great as dinner for your 8 year old, but consider planning more substantial meals, with high protein content for your hungry teenager.
2. Market it: In our class, Chef Shannon taught us how brands use marketing to appeal to teens, and how the same principles can apply in a school lunch room (or family mealtime). She observes ways that different companies appeal to teens, and try’s to steal their strategies! For example, she noticed that a lot of companies offer “customizable” features to attract teen customers, so she used this technique in her lunchroom with customizable meals (like a build your own burrito bar or salad bar). Watch what marketing seems to attract your teen to certain products and use their strategy to market your own family dinner!
3. Get them Involved: Chef Shannon has found huge success in getting students involved as teen advocates for the lunchroom. The same thing can bring success to family mealtimes too. Get your teenager involved in the process in a meaningful way. Have them help you meal plan, assign them a day to be in charge of cooking and even send them out to grab the groceries need for their meal. Not only will they enjoy it more, but it will be teaching valuable skills for when they leave home in a few short years.
4. Use technology- Chef Shannon pointed out that if you want to communicate with your teenager, you need to get on their level, and that means parents need to learn to communicate through social media. If your teen is on social media a lot, use that to your advantage for your mealtime goals. Next time you see that delicious recipe on Facebook, tag your teen in it with a message “what do you think? Dinner next Friday?” Try sending your teen Pinterest pins of fun recipes to try on his turn to cook, or watch YouTube demos on how to make challenging dishes. By using technology, you can reach out to your teen in a way that is already so natural and accessible to them.
5. Make it a priority- The teenage years can bring a lot of new activities, busyness, and chaos which can cause family mealtimes to slip through the cracks. However, if you take the lead and make family mealtime a priority, it can bring a much needed sense of stability and balance into your busy teen’s life. Even if it’s just once a week, find a time that everyone can sit down together and share a meal and make some memories.
To get more tips and advice on “Feeding the Teenage Brain” be sure to check out Chef Shannon’s conference notes and follow @ChefShannonSNS on Twitter and follow her on Facebook.