Hungry and at home: How to keep teens filled up during the holidays

Carly Gibbs

Weekend writer

School holidays are here again, and many parents agree that feeding teens is often about quantity first. Then, push nutrition. Carly Gibbs speaks to families who say you can achieve both - and cheaply - by teaching adolescents how to cook.

Baked beans are entering new territory in the halls of residence at Canterbury University.

Chemical engineering student Rupert Carter, 18, loves “doctoring up” a can of cheap staple beans with red chilli and grated cheese.

In a nearby flat, big brother Monty, also an engineering student, and his five male flatmates love cooking a hearty slow-cooked pork shoulder in the crockpot. They freeze the pork and then use it to make three recipes: Asian noodles, Mexican tacos, and hamburgers with slaw. They can also make ragu pasta if they add a can of tomatoes.

The brothers’ parents are foodies Catherine MacLoughlin and Hamish Carter, who own Tauranga cafe Oscar and Otto and its catering arm Hereford Kitchen.

Together, they have 50 years of hospitality experience, and their four children, including Aquinas College students Gabriella, 17, and Felix, 15, have worked alongside them in the business, acquiring skills that have upped their kitchen game.

Tauranga's Carter siblings pictured with dad Hamish. Photo / Supplied
Tauranga's Carter siblings pictured with dad Hamish. Photo / Supplied

For example, the ever-hungry teens are “big into noodles”, but not the two-minute kind.

The siblings - all home for the April school and university holidays - love visiting Asian supermarkets for condiments to add to Hokkien or udon noodles, which MacLoughlin suggests as a fun outing during the break.

“It’s like a little journey somewhere when you go into those Asian supermarkets. Our [children] love experimenting with different chillies. Choosing a few little, different jars keeps it interesting.” They bulk up their noodles with protein, like tofu.

The youngest child, Felix, makes dumplings from wrappers bought at the supermarket. He fills them with pork or minced chicken, prawns, and tofu.

Asian flavours are popular for teens at home during the school holiday. Photo / Supplied
Asian flavours are popular for teens at home during the school holiday. Photo / Supplied

Cooking: a ‘skill for life’

New Zealand registered dietitian Jess Moulds of Relish Nutrition endorses tweens and teens taking ownership of snacking so that only some meals fall under the parents’ default.

“The more that they can learn to cook simple, filling meals themselves, the better off everybody is going to be, and they’re good skills for life,” she says.

She gives the example of eggs on toast or omelettes, which are good protein sources and will keep them fuller for longer. If they only eat carb-based foods like toast with jam or honey, they will be hungry again an hour later.

Another idea is to make homemade pizzas with pita bread or wraps. Add chicken, ham, and vegetables. Teens can also opt for tuna, baked beans, toasted sandwiches, and pasta with a tablespoon of cream cheese mixed through it (as opposed to a white sauce). Add frozen corn or peas, leftover meat, and extra cheese.

She also suggests breakfast options for lunch or afternoon tea, such as porridge or Weet-Bix with yoghurt and fruit.

For parents who think their child wouldn’t be motivated to cook, Moulds says it comes back to role-modelling and what is available in the pantry.

“As a parent, you are in charge of the ‘what’, and they are in charge of the ‘how much and when’. You provide what is available, and then they can choose from what’s there.”

‘They’re not always going to get fancy little packet food’

Sarah Smith is another mum who’s taught her children how to feed themselves.

The founder of the Facebook page and YouTube channel Cheaper Ways NZ says preparing a snack is a holiday “activity.” Her children, aged 14, 11, and 8, make wraps or tortillas with flour and lukewarm water.

“Mix it up, roll it out, a minute on each side in the frying pan, and they have a nice, warm wrap.”

They also enjoy making smoothies with fruit, yoghurt, peanut butter and pre-cooked porridge; banana ice cream—smoosh bananas with peanut butter and freeze; and tray-baked crumpets—a hybrid between a crumpet and an English muffin. She shares her recipes on her YouTube page.

Sarah Smith makes these tray-baked crumpets—a hybrid between a crumpet and an English muffin. She shares her recipes on her YouTube page, Cheaper Ways NZ. Photo / Supplied
Sarah Smith makes these tray-baked crumpets—a hybrid between a crumpet and an English muffin. She shares her recipes on her YouTube page, Cheaper Ways NZ. Photo / Supplied

“The kids have to know that they’re not always going to get the fancy little packets of stuff. They can’t just have free range of the pantry and expect there to still be food miraculously at the end of the week. But the mentality of seeing ingredients, as opposed to a big tub of flour and ‘we’ve got nothing to eat’, is quite important. It’s a good mindset for them to get into, especially when moving out of home.”

Mum Mary Carmichael likewise encourages from-scratch cooking. If everyone is home during the holidays, she serves cooked breakfast and their main protein meal between 1pm and 2pm.

“Like tea, but in the middle of the day,” she explains.

This satisfies her children - aged 17, 14, and 11 - until 6pm or 7pm, when they’ll have a meal like tortillas with beef, cheese, vegetables, relish, chutney, and a salad.

Apples and carrots are in the fridge if they want to snack until then, and they know how to make hummus.

The family also enjoy “fridge-cleaning meals”. They hunt out everything that needs to be used up, no matter how small. They have been known to split one tomato between five people.

“Add all the little bits together, and you each end up with a delicious platter.”

Learning about food needs and wants

Dietitian Jess Moulds: 'As a provide what is available, and then they can choose from what’s there.' Photo / 123rf
Dietitian Jess Moulds: 'As a provide what is available, and then they can choose from what’s there.' Photo / 123rf

Cooking isn’t completely uncommon for adolescents, and social media, particularly TikTok, is full of food inspiration. However, there’s room for improvement.

Rachel, whose last name we have agreed not to use, works in education. She has heard stories about teens who don’t know how to use a can opener. Many prefer the convenience of eating at “burger bars and the mall” and sipping “$7 coffees with plant milk”.

The Whakatāne mum advocates buying grocery items with multiple uses and teaching kids how to use them. She gives the example of wraps.

“They can be pizza, tortilla chips [fried or baked], the pastry for sausage rolls, scrolls, a tortilla stack, or a toasted or raw wrap. You can get gluten-free, vegan, wholemeal, low-carb, or vegetable-based. As parents on a budget, you must be creative.”

Parenting Place content editor and presenter Ellie Gwilliam says parents should be honest about their grocery budget if they involve kids in writing shopping lists.

Learning about budgeting, meal planning, and the difference between needs and wants are valuable life lessons.

Tweens and teens may enjoy planning part of the week’s menu. Give them a budget for the meal, and they could look up the cost of ingredients beforehand.

“There are all sorts of home-learning there.”

Tips and tricks

We asked members of the Cheaper Ways NZ Facebook page to share their ideas on how to feed hungry adolescents.

Alice: My teen loves Korean toast sandwiches. They are made with bread, ham, cheese, and an omelette (use a heaped handful of shredded cabbage, carrot and spring onion). They are good cold, and I can make a few at a time and put them in the freezer.

Jo-Anne: Sushi bowls. Use rice, a tin of tuna, a dollop of mayo, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and roasted seaweed. You could also add chopped greens, cucumber and/or tomato, and sushi ginger.

Maxine: Make plain sushi with carrot, mayo, and microwaved sausage cut up small. It fills the boys up in this house. Another idea is a crustless quiche with bacon, grated veg, cheese and mayo.

Lucy: I find high-protein snacks more filling. For example, I make the dough for scrolls out of flour and protein yoghurt rather than pastry.

Jody: My kids love mini tortilla pies. Take a soft tortilla and fit it into a small pie or muffin tin. Add ham, bacon, leftover roast meat or stick to vegetables. Then, one or two eggs (depending on size). Add any extras, like sour cream, tomatoes, spinach, and herbs, and top with cheese, salt, and pepper and bake. You can also use a large wrap as a base and slice it up like a pie.

Rebecca: You can make ramen in the microwave (two-minute noodle soup with an egg cracked to poach). Making miso soup paste with noodles is also easy. You can add whatever protein or veggies you want. Overnight oats are a great meal—try a carrot cake version with grated carrot, apple, spices, sultanas, and maple syrup.

Slow-cooked pulled pork

Oscar and Otto’s Catherine MacLoughlin shares her recipe for slow-cooked pulled pork, which her eldest son, university student Monty, enjoys making. It’s a versatile, economical recipe you can make in a big batch and freeze portions or adapt in various ways.


3.5 kg pork shoulder

6 garlic cloves sliced

1 knob fresh ginger finely grated

1/2 jar hoisin sauce

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

Salt and pepper


Put all ingredients into a slow cooker on high for 4.5 hours, turn down to low for the final 30 minutes, or cook on low for 8-9 hours.

Then shred and serve with fresh coleslaw and buns. You can also use it in Asian-inspired tacos or stir fry with vegetables and your favourite noodles.

It can also be used as part of your dumpling fillers or as a pork and tomato ragu.

Carly Gibbs is a weekend magazine writer for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post and has been a journalist for two decades. She is a former news and feature writer, for which she’s been both an award finalist and winner.