Factors from social and food environments can influence the food choices of adolescents in ways not experienced during childhood. Evidence suggests these two environments influence adolescents’ food choices independently, but there is limited knowledge of how the interplay between these environments influence adolescents’ diets. An enhanced understanding of this interplay surrounding adolescent food choice could aid the development of more nuanced interventions and policies. This qualitative study involved 13 online focus groups with adolescents (n = 45) aged 11–18 years, attending secondary school or college in England, UK. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Social experiences which accompanied eating were perceived as more important than the food itself, and fast-food outlets were described as uniquely suited to facilitating these interactions. Young people wanted to spend their money on foods they considered worthwhile, but this did not always relate to the most affordable foods. Adolescents wanted to put little effort into making food decisions and appreciated factors that helped them make quick decisions such as prominent placement and eye-catching promotions on foods they wanted to buy. Chain food outlets were valued as they offered familiar and frequently advertised foods, which minimized the effort needed for food decisions. Adolescents’ sense of autonomy underpinned all themes. Participants described having limited opportunities to make their own food choices and they did not want to waste these buying unappealing ‘healthy’ foods. Interventions and government policies should align with adolescents’ experiences and values relating to food choice to ensure that they are effective with this important age group.

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