Pizza is as much a part of youth ministry as the Bible and a smelly van. Although we love pizza as much as the next person, we all reach a limit. So it’s important to get creative—and stay nutritious—when planning meals for teenage groups.
As New Orleanians, food is a big deal to us. Our challenge has been finding food that’s affordable, fast, tasty, and (at a bare level) nutritious. In those parameters, we’ve searched for years for teen-friendly alternatives. Here are our best tips and ideas for meals for teenage groups.
First, follow these 5 guidelines for youth group meals:
1. Nutrition matters.
For one-day events, the physician’s creed is a good guideline: “First, do no harm.” For shorter contexts, cheap and not-too-messy are important. Yet youth leaders can also choose healthy alternatives. That means grilled instead of fried, fresh instead of processed, lean instead of fatty, whole grains instead of white bread, low sugar instead of high sugar, no fructose instead of high fructose, water instead of soda, and so on.
For a short retreat (two or three days), offer healthy alternatives at each meal. For a weeklong mission camp, be highly intentional about what you serve. Breakfast is cereal, fruit, yogurt, etc. with milk and juice. Lunch is cold cuts on whole-grain bread with fruit, baked chips, and bottled water. Dinner is high in protein and carbs with a good dessert and lemonade and water. No matter the time of day, provide access to low-fat granola bars, fruit or veggies, and water.
2. Consider kids’ ages.
Middle schoolers, especially younger ones, need more intentionality in meals than do high schoolers. Consider nutrition all around, but hold off on empty calories such as Skittles and Mountain Dew.
3. Consider different food beliefs.
When we were growing up in the South, the only vegetarians we knew were just bad hunters. Everyone ate meat. None of our friends counted calories. No one was gluten-free or lactose intolerant. And parents never complained about whatever meal someone else provided for their kids.
Today’s world is different, and the quicker you embrace it, the easier your life will be. Good food matters to a lot of people because they recognize its direct connection to overall health and well-being. Instead of complaining about picky parents, ask one more question than you normally would to discover their reasoning.