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’?