Middle School

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Is it normal for tween appetites to be insatiable?

Tween appetite: Boy about age 12 eating banana while doing homework while mom looks on laughing. BIPOC family.

If your kid has developed next-level hunger, welcome to the tween feeding years. Read on for expert advice from an endocrinologist on what exactly is going on (and when the tween appetite ends!) 

The tween appetite is something to behold: Your 11-year-old, for instance, eats four pancakes and two bowls of cereal for breakfast. Lunch—two sandwiches, a bag of chips, two glasses of milk, an apple and four chocolate chip cookies. For dinner, two heaping plates of spaghetti and and a huge bowl of ice cream. And at 9 p.m., your kid stares into the open fridge saying they’re hungry. 

Is a giant tween appetite normal for a small kid?

The answer, according to Dr. Shazhan Amed, a pediatric endocrinologist at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, is that it’s perfectly normal for some kids this age to develop astounding appetites. Girls often begin their pubertic growth spurt around age 10, and boys slightly later, sometime between 12 and 14. “During that growth spurt, the growth rate per year doubles,” she says. “That demand on the body requires additional energy that is derived from food. So it’s not unusual for kids to have a huge increase in appetite. It’s actually expected.” Luckily, says Dr. Amed, the body is designed in such a way that it generally regulates appetite according to physical need. 

Both boys and girls can get ravenous

The metabolic needs of children depend on many things, including how active they are and their genetic profile—not just their gender. Skyrocketing tween appetites, and even into the teen years, is common among all kids, not just boys. Both males and females experience a surge of both estrogen and testosterone in the tween years (yes, everybody has both!) which can significantly enhance appetite. 

Resist any urge to restrict food

If they’re hungry, says Dr. Amed, let them eat. Just make sure they’re eating the right foods most of the time. “Kids at this age are actually very vulnerable to forming unhealthy eating habits. If they’re choosing foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar, or drinking a lot of calories in pop and other sweetened drinks, that’s when we see obesity becoming an issue.” Parents need to role model healthy choices, says Dr. Amed, so their kids feel inspired to do the same, even when they’re on their own and making their own decisions.

Healthy body habits for the whole family

Help your kids integrate these healthy eating behaviours into their ravenous tween appetite phase:

  • five to seven fruits and vegetables every day
  • minimal sugar-sweetened beverages (ideally zero)
  • an hour of physical activity every day
  • keep tabs on screen time: ideally no more than two hours per day, and beware of mindless eating in front of the screen

“If these things become part of their daily routine, they will take them right into adulthood,” says Dr. Amed. “We need to set our kids up for success – not just in terms of education, but success in health. We really are facing a huge problem in today’s society; if our kids don’t have success in terms of health, none of their other success will matter.”

How to keep growing kids full

When tweens are wildly hungry, they’re much more likely to reach for something nutritious if it’s right at their fingertips. Try these tips for filling them up right:

  • Have lots of washed and cut up fruits and veggies in resealable containers in the fridge at eye level or sitting out in the fruit bowl so they’re the first thing your child sees when they walk into the kitchen.
  • Make filling, nutritious meals (like soups, chili or pasta) in large quantities, and freeze them in individual portions. Just reheat and eat – as easy as frozen pizza, but much healthier.
  • Avoid buying too much chips, pop, cookies or other pastries. If they’re not in the house, your child will choose something else (at least while they’re at home!).
  • Bake your own muffins and cookies and keep them in the freezer so there’s always  something homemade on hand.
  • Get your tween to cook. Teach them how to make a few easy, foolproof snacks such as salads, smoothies and grilled sandwiches. Learning their way around a kitchen is a valuable skill that will stand them in good stead when they move out—it’s only a few years away!
  • Buy things in bulk. Nuts and nut butters, cereal, cheese; these staples are far cheaper when bought in large quantities. Maybe now is the time to buy a membership at that bulk retailer.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July 2012; updated April 2023

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