The Hunger Games: 5 tips for feeding your tweens

Editor’s Note: With the arrival of Clara, I’m taking a short maternity blogging break. I’m excited to welcome several guest writers, among them, my friend and mother of tweens, Jan of Family Bites. Welcome, Jan!

The Hunger Games might be the name of a popular book and movie series, but for me it’s an activity I participate in daily.

I live with three hungry boys: my husband and our two growing sons, who are 10 and 11.  Food makes up a major part of our daily lives, and not just because I spend my working hours as a food writer.  The people in my house eat so much these days that I would still be thinking about food around the clock, if only to devise ways of keeping my ravenous boys fed.

On average my kids eat 6-8 times a day.  There’s breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, a second afternoon snack, dinner, and yet another snack before bed.  When Ben, my oldest, has a hockey outing (which is five days a week right now) I can be certain there will be another serving of food interjected at some point in the day.

Why are my kids eating so much? Between the ages of 6 and 12, kids can double their body weight and grow up to two feet in height.  Both of my boys are in this stage right now, and between them we’ve seen 13 inches of vertical growth since spring of last year.

When you add in all of the sports and general physical activity, not to mention hormonal changes and a speedy metabolism, there is no doubt that these are hungry times, and they are likely to continue for another four or five years.

So what’s a mom to do?  I don’t have all the answers, but here are my tips for feeding tweens that have worked well for me over the past two years.

1. Grab and Go Snacks

In addition to being the hungry years, these are also some of the busiest.  Between school life, homework, school sports, extra-curricular activities (we do hockey, karate, and music), and budding social lives, today’s tweens are constantly on the move.

I find that having a steady supply of grab and go snacks on hand is one of the key ways I can feed the kids and keep it healthy. Some of my favorite options are apples, bananas, trail mix, muffins, and granola bars.

Recipes to Try:

2. Make More Than You Need

When I make dinner, I cook for 8 people despite the fact that we are a 4-person household. Our meals are often nutritionally well balanced and they make excellent options for the lunchbox, or a late afternoon snack. Soups, stews, chilies and rice bowls are perfect for this application.  They pack in a thermos nicely, and can also be eaten in the car, which can become a dinnertime reality when you have one hour to get your kids from school to the ice rink, located 30 minutes away.

Recipes to Try:

3. Get the Kids in the Kitchen

I can’t stress this point enough.  When the kids are younger, cooking with them is a fun activity, but when they are older it’s an essential life skill they need to learn.  With busy schedules that often find me away from the kitchen over some weeknight dinner hours, I rely on my boys to prep some foods and cook others.

It’s also important for them to know how to make a meal at this age; it builds confidence and encourages them to try more foods if they’ve been choosy eaters up to this point.

4. Don’t Forget the Protein

I’m not a scientist, or even a doctor, but I do know that my boys need their protein. It’s important to make sure they have it at every meal and every snack, if possible.  Protein staves off hunger and reduces sugar cravings, key elements in keeping tweens well fed.

Protein can be found in milk, cheeses, yogurt, eggs, beans, lean meats, fish, and even some whole grains.

Recipes to Try:

5. Love Them Enough To Let Them Make Mistakes

I saved this tip for last, because it’s the hardest to put into practice.  For the first time in our children’s lives they are making many of their own food choices.  They are eating away from home more frequently, being fed by other families, and facing possible peer pressure that might come from kids whose family food culture is different from their own.

They will make “poor choices”.  They might even choose potato chips and soda for dinner, when given the opportunity.  Love them enough to let them make those mistakes. It’s important to relinquish control in order to let our children learn to feed themselves, and if they make a dietary faux pas, take the opportunity to use it as a teaching lesson.

The tween years are great fun, and I love seeing my kids develop into smaller versions of the men I think they might become.  We’ve had some growing pains, of course, but it’s nothing that a little love and some good food can’t smooth over.

There just needs to be ample amounts of both.

Are your tweens or teens eating you out of house and home? How do you keep them ‘fed-up’?

About Jan

Jan Scott is a Canadian food writer, party planner, and mom of two active tween boys. She is the home cook and creative behind Family Bites, a blog inspired by the simple recipes and party ideas she’s put to the test on her family. Prior to making the transition to freelance writer, Jan spent five years as a party planner for a private catering company, but shifted to working from home in order to spend more time with her growing family.

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  1. LOL I love the title of this blog entry 🙂 Great tips!!

  2. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    I don’t have kids yet, let alone tweens, but I absolutely love this post. So many people think that kids will just “absorb” kitchen skills and eating skills by what goes on around them. That’s not true. You have to make purposeful and deliberate teaching moments for them so that they truly take it in. And this post can actually apply to people in their early 20s too – a lot of my friends throughout college went through what your boys are getting a leg up on, when they were 21 or 22!

    • Jan @ Family Bites says

      Thank you so much, Amber! My hope for my boys is that when they’re in university they’ll make fabulous meals for all of their friends and dates!

  3. Ha! I have a 3 and 1 year old and feel this way already. I’m in for a big wake-up call I think. Love the recipe links, especially the quinoa salad.
    I find making our own snacks is great~ both economically and for quick fill-ups. Plus it’s nice to know what it’s really made of. 🙂

    • Jan @ Family Bites says

      I’m so with you on making my own snacks! If I bought them I would be in the poor house with the amount of food my kids eat.

  4. Anonymous says

    We have four boys ages 6-14 – so I often feel like I’m constantly thinking of food! I definitely have to plan ahead to keep the kitchen stocked with quick snacks and filling meals. Fruit is our “go to” snack and usually everyone can find SOMETHING they like that will ward off the hunger pains until next meal time. I also find that when attending athletic events, I often pack fresh veggies and since everyone is so hungry, they DO get eaten! A great appetizer before supper.

  5. Great post! I like to make a rule that my kids have to have fruit with every snack — it’s easy to keep on hand and helps them make a good choice before they make their other choices. I especially agree about letting them make some food mistakes. As the mom of teenagers, I know there are bigger battles to be fought than whether or not they drink soda.
    I can’t wait to try some of your recipes. Thanks!

  6. Simple Living with Diane Balch says

    Great advice… especially cooking for more. This is a big adjustment for me. My kids 10 and 12 have been taking on more challenging dishes in the kitchen. It is hard to know how much advice you can give them with out them feeling that you are not giving them some independence. Well, this is going to be the issue until they are off to college.

  7. Right up my alley! One teen, one tween and the tween’s a GIRL. Oi! 😉
    Great post – I have Evernoted it. Thanks to both of you ladies!

  8. I am so glad I came across this article (thank you pinterest!). I have a 7 year old girl and a 5 year old who have started eating my out of house and home lately…literally, they are ALWAYS hungry. I struggle with filling them up with snacks that will actually fill their tummies, and give them the most nutritional bang for their buck. I add peanut butter to a lot of fruits and crackers to up the protein and calorie content they are getting LOL. Thanks for the extra tips, i will definitely use them!

  9. Divinne Grace says

    Thanks for the great advice here and I think it can really help a lot of people in terms of cooking for kids…

  10. Love this article. It fits in with the series I am writing on teen nutrition. I will share it with my readers.
    PS-I have 4 kids, including 2 tweens. Excellent advice you give. (Especially about making food for 8 even if you are only 4 eating!) My 11 year old son can be so hungry sometimes he will wake up at midnight and grab a snack from the kitchen.

  11. I have two teenage boys – 16 and 18! I remember the first time I realized just how much they eat; it’s like having man-sized appetites on two hour feedings. I’ve become much more of a fan of non-processed food as I watch these turns grow into men.

    Jamie Oliver has some pretty powerful things to say about people who have never been taught to cook. It’s something that we need to teach just as much as financial literacy – food literacy.

  12. Good post! I had three hungry boys to feed. I agree with a lot of this, especially making a big dinner so it can be the next day’s lunch. I had my boys help out a lot in the kitchen when they were preschoolers. Now that mine are grown or almost so, none are overweight and they make good food choices overall. But I could have had them cook more as older children and teens, and wish I had. I admire that you have your boys fully responsible for meals.

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