Teenagers are going through growth spurts and need a lot of energy to support their developing bodies. Snacks can be a healthy addition to a teenager’s day to add needed nutrients and help a teen stay focused and fueled throughout the day between meals.
Teenagers should eat every 3-4 hours, which would mean 3 meals and between 1-3 snacks per day, based on calorie needs and activity level. Skipping meals can make you overeat later on.
Some teens may need more or less snacks, depending on several factors. Keep reading to learn the best recommendations for how much and how often your teen should snack.
How Many Snacks do Teenagers Need in a Day?
How much should a teenager eat in day? It depends on age, gender, size, physical activity level, etc. Moderately active teen boys typically need between 2,400-2,800 calories per day and moderately active teen girls need about 2,000 calories per day. Active teens and teens going through growth spurts might need additional nutrients.
(Check out my posts How Much Should a 16 Year-Old Eat? and How Many Calories Should a 14 Year-Old Eat Per Day? for a specific chart with calorie recommendations for your teen, including calorie levels for all ages of teens.)
Teens should eat about 400-800 calories at each of 3 meals in a day, plus about 1-3 snacks per day to help them meet additional calorie and nutrient recommendations. Most teens need at least 1 snack per day, but some may need up to 3 snacks per day depending on calorie level and activity level. One of the best times for a snack is an after-school snack.
Calories at meals and snacks are based on personal preference and individual tolerance. Teenagers should eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours of at least a few hundred calories.
Teenagers at 2,000 calories might eat about 500 calories for breakfast, 600 calories for lunch, 200 calories for an after school snack, and 600 calories for dinner, with an additional 100 calorie snack after dinner.
Teenagers at 2,600 calories might eat around 600 calories for breakfast, 200 calories for a mid-morning snack, 800 calories for lunch, 200 calories for an afternoon snack, and 800 calories for dinner.
Teens don’t necessarily need to count calories, but it can be helpful to know recommendations when reading food labels and estimating serving sizes.
Teen athletes likely need additional snacks such as pre-workout and post-workout snacks to fuel and refuel their bodies during physical activity. Find some more ideas here: The Best Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks for Teens
What is the Best Time to Eat Snacks?
It is best for teens to eat snacks when they need them. This might be during times of day to supply additional nutrients for focus and fuel, such as before and after intense workouts, and to not go without food for more than 3-4 hours. Most teenagers will need at least 1 snack per day and an after-school snack might be the best time to get some needed nutrients between lunch and dinner.
Mid-Morning Snack (around 10-11am)
A mid-morning snack 1-2 hours after breakfast might be necessary if a teenager typically eats a small breakfast, and if lunch is more than 3-4 hours after breakfast. Many schools have lunch by 11a.m., which means your teen may or may not need a snack.
If a snack is needed, pack something easy to eat between classes such as an energy bar (LARABARS are my favorite healthy kind!), a banana and almonds, string cheese and whole-wheat crackers, or a small amount of trail mix.
Plan snacks 1-2 hours before lunch. For example, if a teen eats breakfast at 6 am then a mid-morning snack should be around 10am if lunch is at 11 or 12. .
After-School Snack (around 2-4pm)
An after-school snack is a common time for teenagers to need a snack between lunch and dinner. If lunch is eaten at 11 or 12 and dinner is around 6, then almost every teenager needs a snack during this time in order to not go more than 3-4 hours between meals.
An after-school snack is the perfect way to add healthy nutrients for a teen to be able to focus on homework, after-school clubs, jobs, chores, or sports practice. Plan snacks around protein, healthy carbohydrates, and veggies instead of highly-processed packaged foods.
It is best to not eat in front of a screen, such as mindless snacking on popcorn, ice cream, or other processed snacks in front of the television or a phone screen. Be mindful and intentional about snacking. It’s a mini-meal, not necessarily a time for treats.
After-Dinner Snack (around 7-9pm)
An after-dinner snack isn’t always necessary for teens, especially if they are eating a balanced, adequate dinner and getting to bed on time. If a snack is needed, try to keep it light and focused on fruits and vegetables and protein such as Greek yogurt and berries, string cheese and an apple, hummus and veggies, or a homemade fruit smoothie popsicle. It’s best not to eat too soon before bed, so check if your teen really needs a snack or if it is just a bad habit, or cravings for something sweet.
Pre-Workout and Post-Workout Snacks (about 30 min-1 hour before exercise, and within 2 hours after exercise)
Teen athletes may need additional snacks to fuel their vigorous workouts. If practice is right after school then a pre-workout snack doubles as an afternoon/after-school snack. Choose something easy to digest with carbs.
If dinner is within 1-2 hours after practice, then a teen might not need an additional post-workout snack besides plenty of water. If a post-workout snack is needed, then try something with protein and carbohydrates such as a homemade protein shake, peanut butter toast, meat and cheese roll up, or Greek yogurt with granola/fruit.
See my post The Best Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks for Teens for more specific ideas.
What are Popular Snacks for Teenagers?
Popular snacks for teenagers include highly-processed ready-to-eat snacks, fast food, soda, vending machine food, and other sugary and high fat and calorie foods. These aren’t the best choices. Snacks shouldn’t be unhealthy treats each time, they should be mini-meals to fuel a teen’s body.
Snacks need to be purposefully planned throughout the day. Plan snacks around protein, healthy carbohydrates, and fiber, and keep them between 100-300 calories. Need some ideas? I’ve got you covered!
Best Snacks for Teenagers between 100-300 calories:
- PB&J sandwich- try slices of fruit instead of jelly!
- Energy bar such as a LARABAR
- 1 cup 100% juice and 2 hard-boiled eggs
- Homemade fruit smoothie popsicles
- 1 cup Greek yogurt parfait with granola and fruit
- About 12 oz homemade Protein shake or fruit and veggie smoothie. You can also add protein powder if needed (but you can get plenty of protein from adding yogurt, seeds, and milk, oats, and nut butter).
- Small handful (1/4 cup) of trail mix nuts and dried fruit.
- Granola bar (look for lower added sugar and higher protein)
- 1/4 cup hummus with 6 whole wheat crackers and veggies
- Toast with 1 Tablespoon peanut butter and banana
- String cheese and 8 whole grain crackers
- Apple, banana, crackers, or celery with 1-2 Tablespoons peanut butter
- Rice cakes with 1 Tablespoon nut butter and a banana
- Oatmeal with a nut butter or protein powder, and fruit
- 1 cup pasta with chicken
- Bagel with 1 T peanut butter
- 8 oz 100% juice and a hard-boiled egg
- 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese and fruit
- 1.5 cups whole wheat cereal and 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup almonds and 1 apple
- String cheese and apple slices
- 1/2 cup pretzels and 1 T peanut butter
- String cheese and 4 oz applesauce
- Check out my pre-workout snacks post for more ideas that can be helpful for teen athletes and regular teens
What is the Best After School Snack?
The best after school snack is something prepare by the students or parents, and not a packaged food. Try to choose cut up fruits and veggies, lowfat dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk), whole grains (crackers, toast, cereal), and some protein (dairy, lunchmeat, eggs, nuts, peanut butter, hummus, etc.).
If you stay after school for sports, clubs, or work, plan ahead and bring a healthy snack with you so you can fuel up in between class and practice. Plan ahead, it’s worth it! You’ll feel better, perform better, and focus better.
What Are Some Healthy Snacks For School?
Some of the best healthy snacks to bring to school include cut-up fruits and veggies and easy foods that can be individually portioned or brought in a lunchbox with an ice pack.
- Individual packages of hummus (I buy the Costco brand) with cut up veggies and crackers
- Pre-portioned trail mix and dried fruit
- String cheese
- Applesauce containers or squeeze pouches
- Cottage cheese in containers with fruit
- Whole or cut-up fruit such as apples, oranges, bananas, pears, watermelon, berries
- Whole or cut-up veggies such as baby carrots, celery, snap peas, broccoli, cucumbers, cauliflower
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Individual portions of peanut butter (you can buy these at most grocery stores)
- Whole-wheat breakfast cereal and fruit or milk
- Small containers of yogurt
- PB&J sandwich
- Energy bars like LARABAR
- Fruit and veggie smoothie or protein shake in your favorite portable bottle
- Fruit leather (you can get the organic version at Costco)
- Rice cakes with peanut butter
- Leftover pasta
- Bagels with nut butter
Is it Healthy to Snack All Day?
95% of Americans have at least one snack per day. Snacking is a lot more common that it was a generation ago, possibly because of more processing techniques and many popular packaged versions of favorite foods, or because of our ever-increasing busy, on-the-go lifestyle.
Snacking is a great idea to help prevent hunger between meals so you don’t overeat at meals and have unhealthy cravings, but it isn’t a great idea for most people to snack all day. Planned snacks are best throughout the day at regular times, 1-2 hours before meals.
It may seem like teenagers have insatiable appetites and can’t be kept fed! Some teenagers seem to come back and back again to the pantry constantly until dinner looking for food.
If you notice that your teenager is constantly eating, they may just be going through a growth spurt. Come up with a plan for strategic, planned, balanced snacks that are filling with fiber, protein, and fluid and not full of sugar, fat, and salt.
Parents- you’re in charge! You are the “gatekeepers” of what food comes into the house. Stock your house with healthy snacks that are easily accessible to your teenager and always store cut-up fruits and veggies that are ready to grab.
Teens are likely to grab snacks that need minimal preparation! I hardly ever say no when my daughter asks for fruit or vegetables!
Snacking can be a good way for teenagers to get additional nutrients and calories they need to function throughout the day and not go too long between meals. Most teens need at least 1 snack per day, but some may need up to 3 snacks per day depending on calorie level and activity level. One of the best times for a snack is an after-school snack.
It can take practice to plan ahead for snacks, but it’s worth it instead of relying on vending machine or fast food snacks each day.
- What are the Best and Worst Foods for a Teenager to Eat?
- The Best Pre-Workout Meals and Snacks for a Teen Athlete
- How Much Sugar Should a 14 Year-Old Have in a Day?
- Should a Teenager Count Calories?
- The Best Meal Plan for Teenage Athletes
How Much Should a Teenager Eat In a Day? Most teenagers need 3 meals per day of 400-800 calories each and 1-3 snacks of 100-300 calories each. Calorie needs for teenagers depend on age, gender, size, activity level, etc. Typically teenage girls need around 2000 calories per day and teenage boys need around 2,400-2,800 calories per day.
What is the Ideal Time Between Meals? Breakfast should be eaten about 4 hours before lunch, and dinner should be at least 4 hours after lunch. 3-4 hours between meals is ideal, with an added snack when meals are longer than 3-4 hours apart.
An example of a well-timed eating plan might look like this: breakfast at 8am, lunch at 12pm, snack at 3pm, and dinner at 6pm. No matter your schedule, you can plan an eating plan where you eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours for best results.
Does Snacking Cause Weight Gain? Snacking can definitely cause weight gain. If snacks are within 1 hour of meals, you may still eat the same amount at dinner, which adds more calories to your day. Too many poorly planned, unhealthy, packaged snacks in a day can add extra calories.
Many people feel the need to add many snacks in to their day and snack constantly, this contributes to weight gain and obesity. Try only adding snacks when you are hungry, when meals are more than 3-4 hours apart. If your teen never seems to recognize hunger and want food, have them practice and plan a small snack more often!
- Is It OK for Teens to be Dairy-Free?
- Sugar-Free Kids? The Problem with Artificial Sweetener for Children and Teens
- Are Homemade Cookies Healthier than Store-Bought?
Written by Katherine Harmer, RDN
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