What Are Healthy Snacks For Teenagers?

Most teenagers need snacks throughout the day. When you are constantly learning, moving, and growing, you need to refuel your system with energy on a consistent basis. Snacks are meant to bridge you between meals. The key is to choose balanced snacks that will provide you with the nutrients your body needs!

A healthy snack for teenagers is one that is balanced with carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Since there are very few foods that are balanced on their own, this usually means a healthy snack is made up of at least 1-2 food groups. 

Read on for healthy snack ideas, and to learn how many snacks teenagers should eat each day and what to eat before and after exercise. 

Should Teenagers Eat Snacks During the Day?

Snacks sometimes get a bad reputation. Maybe you are concerned that snacking will lead to eating too much or spoiling your next meal. Maybe you are concerned that you will only choose unhealthy foods if you choose to snack during the day. 

The truth is, most people need to include snacks in their daily eating routine. With busy schedules, people tend to have long gaps between meals. Snacking can actually be a great tool to bridge those gaps and could really improve your health and well-being. Eating healthy, balanced snacks can have a number of benefits including:

  • Maintaining stable blood sugars
  • Feeling more energized 
  • Appetite is more regulated
  • Better recognition of hunger and fullness signals
  • Improved absorption and utilization of nutrients 
  • Decreased overeating
  • Increased mindfulness to make healthy choices

Make sure your snacks are well-balanced so you get the most benefit from them! Read on to find out what a healthy snack actually looks like!

What Makes Up a Healthy Snack for Teens?

Healthy, balanced snacks are made up of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Carbohydrates are your body’s best source of energy, so you need a regular intake of carbohydrates in order to keep you energized throughout the day. 

Protein and fat also play many important roles in the body, but one of the most important is that they slow down digestion and help to maintain the energy from carbohydrates for a longer period of time.

Without the protein and fat to sustain that energy, you will have a temporary high spike in your blood sugar which will quickly drop, possibly leaving you more hungry than you were before you ate!

You have probably experienced this before. For example, fruit is packed with nutrients, but it is mostly carbohydrates. If you eat it by itself as a snack it will likely not be as satisfying as it would be with some sort of protein and fat along with it. 

Healthy snacks can be delicious and satisfying. The food you choose to eat should taste good! Even on days you are really craving a chocolate bar, pairing it with something a bit more nutrient dense can help you enjoy your snacks while still feeling your best.

Choose to eat snacks that are personally satisfying for your body. Notice how different snacks make your body feel. Notice how long you feel satisfied and when your hunger cues come back again. Notice your energy levels and mood. Consciously recognizing the good that snacks can do for your body will help you continue to make healthy decisions.

How Many Snacks Should a Teenager Eat in a Day?

The purpose of snacks is to keep your energy up and to give you needed fuel between meals. On some days, you might need more snacks than others. Usually 2-3 snacks per day works out well for most teenagers. For many teens, this means eating a late morning snack, an afternoon snack, and an evening snack before bed.

The number of snacks you need during the day will differ based on your schedule, activity level, eating habits, etc. Here are a few examples of teenagers that might need to be snacking during the day.

  • A teen that has two sports practices a day is likely burning through a lot of energy and will need to eat something every couple hours to meet their needs and give them fuel for exercise.
  • A teenager that gets sick, has surgery, or loses their appetite may struggle to eat enough at mealtimes. If this is the case, doing smaller meals (AKA larger snacks) throughout the day will be helpful.
  • A teenager eats breakfast at 7am but doesn’t get to eat lunch before 1pm will likely need a snack to bridge that 6 hour gap! Going long periods without eating often results in overeating.
  • A teenager working a busy shift during the summer might not have time to sit down for a full meal. They can find quick and easy on-the-go snacks to have available to still provide energy for their body.
  • An athlete that has an away game and has to travel a long distance before they are able to get home for a meal. Eating a high protein snack on the way home can be beneficial.
  • A teen that has to stay after school for band practice might not get home until later in the evening. They might need a snack before band practice for a boost of energy and to bridge the long gap between lunch and dinner.

The Best Pre-Exercise Snacks for Teens

Many teenagers do not like to eat right before they exercise. If you don’t choose the right foods before a workout, you could feel lethargic or have bloating and discomfort, which is no fun when you are trying to exercise! 

The timing of snacks before exercise is important too. Experiment with how snacking affects your body. If you are an athlete, start experimenting in the off-season. Never try a new eating routine on a game day! 

As a general rule-of-thumb, carbohydrates are going to be your safest bet prior to exercise. Especially in the hour before an intense workout, sticking mostly to carbohydrates will help provide quick energy without causing discomfort. Liquid carbohydrates like sports drinks are designed for this purpose. They provide a source of quick digesting carbohydrates to provide immediate energy to athletes. Carbohydrate drinks and snacks can also be consumed during a workout if refueling is needed.

Good sources of carbohydrates to eat before exercise include: 

  • Toast
  • Sports drinks
  • Juice
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Whole fruit
  • Dried fruit
  • Fruit leather
  • Fruit layered bars
  • Pretzels
  • Oatmeal
  • Roll

If you are eating a snack more than an hour before you will exercise, you might be alright to eat a more balanced snack with some protein and fat as well. Everyone’s body is a bit different, so see what timing and combination of foods works best for you.

The Best Post-Exercise Snacks for Teens

After exercise is the time where your body really needs to refuel and rebuild. It needs to replenish all of the carbohydrate stores that were just wiped out during your workout. It also needs protein to repair the damage done to your muscles and to help rebuild them to be even stronger. Fat is important for boosting overall calorie intake as well as absorbing certain vitamins and reducing inflammation.

Athletes that can get a good balanced snack in soon after exercise could experience some of the following benefits:

  • Quicker recovery time
  • Decreased risk of injuries
  • Decreased muscle soreness
  • Increased muscle mass 
  • Increased energy and performance at future workouts

Quick and Easy Snack Ideas for Busy Teens

If you are bored of eating the same old snacks, here are some balanced snack ideas for you to try! Many of these can be mixed and matched as long as they keep a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The snack possibilities are endless!

  • Apple slices with almond butter
  • Carrots, triscuits, and hummus
  • Pretzels, peanut butter, and chocolate chips
  • Smoothie with greek yogurt, milk, and frozen fruit
  • Greek yogurt parfait with berries and granola
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole
  • Nachos with ground turkey or shredded chicken, cheese, black beans, guacamole, salsa, and sour cream
  • Cheese stick and wheat thins
  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Strawberries and nuts
  • Avocado toast with chia seeds
  • Greek yogurt
  • Trail mix
  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and honey
  • Protein bar and cherries
  • Cantaloupe and cheese cubes
  • Rolls with turkey and cheese
  • Hard boiled egg and crackers
  • English muffin with a fried egg, ham, and cheese
  • Chocolate milk (Carnation Instant Breakfast packets are a favorite of mine)
  • Greek yogurt and pineapple
  • Bagel with cream cheese
  • Dried fruit and almonds
  • Dried apple chips and string cheese
  • Quesadilla with chicken and cheese
  • Protein drink and an english muffin*
  • Smoothie with fruit and protein powder*
  • Protein drink and orange slices*
  • Protein drink, raspberries, celery and ranch*

*Some protein supplements have been found to be contaminated with substances which can be harmful to a growing teenage body. Check with a doctor before starting any kind of protein supplement. A dietitian can also point you in the right direction when choosing a protein supplement that will be safe and effective.

Snacking is Beneficial for Teens

Snacking can be a healthy way for teenagers to meet their energy and nutrient needs during the day. Since most foods are not balanced by themselves, you will likely need to pair things together to get the most benefit from your snacks. Snacking does not have to be complicated! Hopefully you got a few new snack ideas that you are excited to try out!

Working with a registered dietitian is a great way to determine the best way to fit snacks into your schedule. They can help come up with a plan for you that will help you feel your best! 

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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