Something wonderful happened recently: My teenage son stole some of my food. He is ravenous, but also considerate. So when I said, “Fine, you can have some of my leftover chili, but you’ll have to replace it,” he agreed. And thus he began to prep (some of) his own meals.
I usually make myself a bunch of lunches over the weekend to eat throughout the week. We have a guide to meal prepping here, if you want a gentle introduction to the topic; you might even want to send that link to the hungry teenager in your life. So when he wanted a bowl of my chili and rice, I taught him to make his own.
Meal prepping is great for the hungry teen. I was shocked to find out that my kid was perfectly happy to eat real meals, complete with veggies and protein, when they were readily available. Instead of finding half-empty cereal bowls around the house, I started finding nearly-licked-clean containers of homemade chili. (Cleaning up after himself is a skill we’re still working on.) The kid and I made sure to start labeling our respective meal preps with our names, and so far, there has been peace in our household.
Start with mac and cheese
Table of Contents
I’m pretty sure the first dish I ever made on a stovetop for myself was boxed mac & cheese. This is a great starting point for kids, even before they reach their teen years: Teach them how to fill the pot with water, turn on the stove, wait for it to boil, dump in the macaroni but not the cheese packet, and set a timer so they won’t overcook the pasta. Once they get the hang of that, you can even encourage them to upgrade their mac and cheese with meats, veggies, seasonings, and smoother sauces.
Combine pasta and sauce
Here’s a cool thing about kids who know how to make mac and cheese from a box: They also know how to cook pasta. Pasta plus a jar of sauce is a whole meal, and the sauce is even made of vegetables. Teach them how to reheat store-bought frozen meatballs—or better yet, make a big batch of homemade ones together.
Get them to work the rice cooker
While it’s not that hard to make rice on the stovetop, I have to admit a rice cooker is more convenient. Personally I was too proud to buy a rice cooker until I had a hungry teenager (I have cooked rice on a freaking campfire without burning the bottom, thank you very much) but now that I have one, I use it all the time.
Teach the kiddo how to fill the machine properly and turn it on, and they’ll be off and running. If you currently buy rice one small bag at a time, find out what kind they like best and get one of those giant sacks of it.
Teach them about chili from cans
This is where my son’s first real meal prep began. It’s my laziest and simplest meal prep, and it’s shockingly nutritionally complete. I pack a one-pint soup container half full of rice and fill the rest with chili. It’s such a simple recipe, even a literal child can make it.
- Start a batch of rice in the rice cooker, enough to make 4 cups cooked.
- Brown a pound of ground beef or ground turkey in a skillet.
- Add an appropriate amount of store-bought chili seasoning (or a homemade equivalent, if you’re fancy).
- Dump in a 14-ounce can of drained black beans.
- Dump in a 14-ounce can of (not drained) diced tomatoes.
- Divide the rice and then the chili into four containers.
As a bonus, the first time you do this may also constitute entertainment for you: We had a whole Bean Dad moment when I realized my child had no clue how to operate a can opener. (Unlike Bean Dad, I gave him some hints, and he had the cans of beans and tomatoes open within minutes.)
Share the Good News about roasted veggies
So many of us have bad memories of soggy vegetables from our childhood, only learning in adulthood that there are much more appetizing ways to consume plant matter. And even if your own kid was picky about vegetables when they were little, there’s a good chance they are ready to start sampling more veggies around the same time they start inhaling everything else in the kitchen.
So teach them the easiest, tastiest way to make vegetables:
- Preheat the oven to 425 or so.
- Chop or wash the veggies, if needed (you can shortcut this by buying a bag of, say, frozen broccoli). Pile them on a baking tray.
- Douse them generously in oil, salt, and the seasonings of your choice, then toss to distribute.
- Cook until they’re tender in the middle and crispy on the edges; we have a guide with specific timings here.
These veggies can be combined with any of the meals above, or eaten on their own. Veggies, rice, and a protein of their choice (more on that in a sec) will make a quick and easy meal prep.
Roast a chicken, or chicken parts
Before you start teaching your teen how to butcher a raw bird, start with the end product: Buy them a rotisserie chicken. These pre-cooked birds are hot and tasty. Their meat can be eaten fresh, without any extra seasoning, and the leftovers are easily shredded or chopped. Give them a whole rotisserie chicken. They’ll be thrilled. Then help them package the leftovers—assuming there are any—into containers. Chunks of chicken are great additions to a rice-and-veggie bowl or a pasta dish.
But why stop there? Roasting a whole chicken isn’t hard at all. My preferred way is to slather it with butter, stick a remote-read thermometer in the breast, and ignore it until it’s cooked. For a quicker dish, take your kid shopping and show them how much cheaper chicken legs are than almost any other meat. A pan of thighs, seasoned however you like, can provide a cheap and easy protein centerpiece to a week’s worth of meals.
Bake a cake from a box
After all those savory, healthy meals, what about dessert? Kids often learn to bake before they learn to properly cook, just because it’s more fun. Teach your teen how to bake something if they don’t already. If they already know the basic idea, ask them to walk you through a recipe, making sure they know the steps you may have done for them in the past. Where the mixer is stored, for example, or how to grease a pan.
A box mix is an easy place to start, but it’s an easy upgrade from there to a loaf of homemade banana bread or a batch of Snickerdoodles from scratch. And make sure they share some with you. You taught them, after all.