an illustration of anthopomorphized foods: mac and cheese, a dino nugget, and string cheese
Illustration by Joi Fulton

Dino Nuggets and Chocolate Milk: What a Suburban Teenager Eats in a Week

In Westchester County, New York, writer and editor Adriana Velez learns what her 17-year-old son eats when it's all up to him.

MUNCHIES State of the Suburbs is an exploration of eating in the American suburbs today. What makes suburban dining great, and as the suburbs shift, how are suburban dining scenes changing? Read more here.

What are suburban kids eating these days? I asked my 17-year-old son Jasper to keep a food journal for a week to find out. Of course, there is no singular way that a suburban teenager eats, and I don’t even know how typical he is: Before moving to Westchester County, he spent the first 12 years of his life in brownstone-filled Brooklyn, and he’s the son of a food writer. Then again, he resists all my attempts to teach him any cooking techniques. 


Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve let family dinners together completely disappear. Maybe it’s the need for greater privacy when we’re spending so much time together, but we’re eating in our own little bubbles. When it's all up to him, this is what Jasper eats. Note: When Jasper says “we,” he’s referring to his best friend, Gizelle—not his family. 


First breakfast
Single-serving box of Horizon chocolate milk

I just got up and I’m waiting for class to start. I’m drinking this chocolate milk ‘cause it’s easy and the texture is pretty thick, so it feels like you're getting a little bit of a meal. Seems like it’s got protein in it. 

Second breakfast
Frozen microwavable taquitos with Annie’s Bunny Shape Mac and Cheese

I made these on the stove (cast iron pan), which is a classic. You know, you get the crisp, the crunch. With a lot of microwavable foods, you can’t just put them in the microwave; you gotta put them on the stovetop or the oven. Oven takes too long, though, so I’m a big fan of the stovetop. I was getting sick of the shells, so we went with the bunnies.

First afternoon snack
Another chocolate milk

So we're taking a walk, and I’m having another chocolate milk because they taste excellent. It’s a childhood favorite. Feels like the Horizon cow is a family member and I haven't seen him since I was a baby.  


Second afternoon snack
Pan dulce (cono de piña)

This was really filling and sweet and bready, and I like bread. 

Romaine-leaf tacos with chorizo, grated Jack cheese, homemade salsa verde (Gizelle’s recipe), lime juice and sliced bell peppers; pepinos

We cooked some really good tacos with lechuga instead of tortillas. I liked cooking it a lot. It was beyond satisfying having it done. The salsa we made was really, really fucking good. Like, I think the best salsa I ever had in my whole life [Adriana: OK, I have made us salsa verde numerous times and I…]. We also have a pepinos, which is just cucumber slices with lime and Tajín. I had more pan dulce (a chocolate concha) after that.

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Photos courtesy author


First breakfast
Popsicle and grocery store-brand chocolate chip cookie

It was real fast and just what I needed first thing in the morning.

Second breakfast
Fried eggs with tomatoes, salsa verde, and sour cream; Abuelita hot chocolate

I feel very, very full. It’s very delicious and colorful and a nice way to start the day.


Toast and Applegate Farms chicken nuggets

I’m making toast and chicken nuggets: two of the best comfort foods ever. They’re just perfect because they’re super, super easy and packaged, and they’re great for reinforcing laziness. If I get involved in a long cooking project first thing in the morning, I get really nauseous in the middle of it; my appetite spoils because I’m around food with an empty stomach. These are nice warm foods to have first thing in the morning to get you jump started.


Late lunch
Chicken nuggets with mayonnaise, lemonade; Hillshire Small Plates snack pack with Italian dry salami, cheese, and Melba toast

Went out grocery shopping and I treated myself. I don’t know, the ready-made, packaged food... I kind of want to stop eating that stuff because it just doesn’t teach you how to cook, and I feel like you should learn cooking, if you’re human at all.

Noosa peach yogurt; chickpea rotini pasta with packaged stir-fry vegetables and chicken thighs 

Noosa yogurt is really yummy. Maybe it’s my Gen Z conditioning, but I feel like the packaging and brand image matters. Noosa has nice sleek packaging, but it also tastes really, really good. 

Dinner was an experiment. I steamed the vegetables and baked the chicken and put it all together with the chickpea pasta. It didn't turn out great, like exactly how I expected it. The chicken worked out pretty well. Everything worked out OK, just not enough flavor. It was really bland and soggy, but then I added this sauce (Haven’s Kitchen lemongrass dressing).

Next time, I can make it again and pan fry the veggies with some oil. I think I pushed myself—like, steaming vegetables, making pasta, cooking chicken in the oven I didn’t make anything go on fire. I’m proud of the steps I took, but not so much the end result. That doesn't really matter to me: I think it’s OK, so long as I learn from that and everything, which I think I did. 



Bowtie pasta with a sauce of butter, grated Jack cheese, and sour cream and a packet of seasoned tuna

I wish they made this (Starkist Creations) for cats. Seems like all their food is really bland and not seasoned or anything. But I don’t even know if they even like that. 

Spaghetti with a crushed tomatoes, ground beef, and basil sauce

I tried a thing with the beef. I put vinegar and soy sauce and peanut oil and a bunch of different spices, and I added string cheese and pepper Jack. I think it turned out well. I’ve been making spaghetti for a long time. It’s just easy, muscle-memory food, and it’s tasty.


Toast with chocolate milk 

Yummy, but the toast burned and I don't really like the bread we have (rye)—it’s no bueno. But still, food is good, all I need for a good mood.

Afternoon snack

These are Takis but in the shape of sticks, which we kind of bought by accident. 

Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, Annie’s White Cheddar Broccoli One-Pot Pasta

I scraped the breading off these chicken nuggets because they’re not that good. Smells like really processed carnival food, like corn dog with plastic in it. I added the meat to the pasta and I added string cheese to make the texture more interesting. It melted into these cool cobwebby things. Jasper: boy chef genius, yeah.


One thing I’ve noticed from being more conscious of what I eat is that 100 percent of the time, fast food or pre-made/packaged food is just that: fast. I think you increase the cost efficiency and taste when you cook things from scratch yourself. The only thing you’re saving with fast food is time. This isn’t to say you could necessarily undercut McDonald's by making a perfect Big Mac replica yourself, but you could instead make a burger that has similar components to a Big Mac for cheaper and it would probably taste better as well.

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Photos courtesy author


Milk and a doughnut from the deli

Throughout the day
Mostly I snacked on those Takis Stix. Horrible, horrible.

Cookies and a bagel sandwich with salami, greens, and lemongrass dressing

I ate two cookies and some milk and that was yummy and boring and they were premade and kind of stale and I kind of regret eating the last cookie. I feel kind of nauseous. 


Berry smoothie with grapes, yogurt, milk, and ice

It wasn’t that good. I like smoothies a lot, but I’m not good at making them and it’s stupid because it should be such a simple thing. I’ll get better at it. What I messed up was putting the grapes with the skins on, which was like, “whoa there, young man.”

Chicken milanesa sandwich

We made these chicken sandwiches, but I didn’t eat all of mine because it was massive.

Banana milkshake
Later on, Gizelle made me a banana milkshake. That was way better [than the smoothie]. 

Chicken sisig with veggies

My grandma sent me an Omsom Southeast Asian sampler with all these sauces. It made me do things in cooking that I normally wouldn’t do otherwise. I like to build my skills, but sometimes I don’t have the ideas in my head already. The sauces are all really good.

Adriana Velez is an editor and writer living in Westchester County, NY.