When teens get hungry, they want food fast. And they're old enough to make something themselves, or run off to the store for something that might be less than nutritious. Be ready for your hungry teens -- stock up on these snacks:
Frozen grapes. Buy a pound of seedless grapes and pluck them from the vine. Wash them and place a handful of grapes into each of several sandwich-sized freezer bags. Put the bags in the freezer. Once the grapes are frozen, they develop a popsicle-like texture and taste deliciously sweet without any added sugar.
Fresh vegetables and dip. Teens love chips and dip, but they don't need the extra fats and sodium. Replace the chips with fresh-cut raw vegetables. Try carrot sticks or slices, broccoli, cauliflower, raw green beans, snap peas, or celery. Cut them up ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator. Serve the vegetables with veggie, chip, or nacho cheese dip. Salad dressing works too. Obviously some dips are healthier than others, but the focus is on getting your teens to eat more vegetables.
Whole grain bread and peanut butter. Make the switch from white bread to 100-percent whole wheat bread, and any sandwich is instantly better for you. Peanut butter adds protein, minerals and healthy fats. Try other types of butters such as soy nut butter, almond butter, or cashew butter.
Fruit spread instead of jelly. If your teen has sugar cravings, bring home 100-percent fruit spreads instead of jam or jelly that's made with extra sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Or better yet, offer fresh fruit like apples, pears and oranges.
Lite popcorn. What could be easier than tossing a bag of popcorn in the microwave? Popcorn is high in fiber, so it makes a good snack as long you don't drown it in butter or margarine. You can choose brands that are lower in fat and made with less salt or buy a microwave popcorn popper. Let your teen experiment with different seasonings to add flavor and zest without added calories.
Whole wheat pretzels. Whole grains add fiber to your teen's diet. Fiber is important for a healthy digestive system, and most teens (and adults) don't get enough. Regular pretzels are made from over-processed white flour that has much of the fiber removed. Choose 100-percent whole wheat pretzels that retain the goodness of fiber and still taste great when they're slathered in mustard.
Make your own trail mix. Does your teen like to grab a granola bar for a quick treat? Granola bars sound like they should be good for you, but they often contain unwanted fats, sugar and extra calories. You can make a healthier alternative by making your own trail mix. Blend one cup each of two different 100-percent whole grain cereals, like whole grain Cheerios and Shredded Wheat. Add one cup of mixed nuts and one-half cup of raisins or other dried fruits. You can even add a half cup of chocolate chips. Top it off with some shelled sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or soy nuts.
Protein bars. Like granola, commercially prepared protein bars can be high in sugar and calories. Make your own homemade protein bars so you can control the ingredients.
Smoothies. Fruit smoothies are much better for your teen than milkshakes or malts. Use frozen bananas as a base for the smoothies. When your bananas become a little too ripe for your taste, cut them into one-inch chunks and keep them in the freezer. To make a smoothie, just toss four or five chunks of frozen bananas into a high-quality blender with a cup of low-fat milk, a handful of strawberries or blueberries and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Blend until smooth and pour into a tall glass.
Hummus and pita or crackers. Keep some hummus on hand to serve with whole wheat pita bread, whole grain crackers or breadsticks. Hummus is made with chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), which makes it a terrific source of protein and healthy fats.
Yogurt Parfait: Plain yogurt is good for your teens if they're not getting enough calcium, but the taste may be kind of boring. Spruce up yogurt with berries, sliced peaches and crunchy cereal flakes, nuts or seeds. Plain yogurt can also be used to make healthy, low-fat veggie dips.
Healthy Beverages: Teens love beverages with lots of sugar and caffeine, like sodas, coffee drinks and energy drinks. The problems is that energy drinks may be bad for kids, especially later in the day because the caffeine may make for some sleepless nights and the added sugar is just extra calories. Make sure you keep healthier beverages on hand, like bottles of 100-percent fruit and vegetable juices, low-fat milk, sparkling water and plain chilled water.
Getting Rid of the Bad Stuff: It may not be enough to supply healthy snacks. You may need to remove some junk foods too, but it depends on your kid's eating habits. One teen can easily ignore a tub of ice cream in the freezer while another can't resist the temptation to devour it all in one sitting. If you have a teen (or adult or child) in your home who has a difficult time resisting high-calorie foods, keep such foods out of the house.
This doesn't mean you have to deprive your family of fun foods -- every kid needs a treat now and then -- just regulate them. When you decide an ice cream treat is in order, hit the ice cream shop. Don't buy bags of candy bars at the grocery or discount store, but occasionally bring home one individual candy bar for each family member. The same idea applies to eating cakes, cookies, greasy chips and donuts: They should be considered treats, not daily dietary staples.