How to Feed Your Teen's Growth Spurt

Suddenly, your kid is hungry all the time! Here's how to feed a teen's growth spurt (and growing appetite) the right way.

gril eating eggs and beans
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When my son was younger, there were days when I wished he would take a couple more bites of dinner. Now that he's 15, he's cleaning his plate, chasing it with yogurt and a spoonful of peanut butter, then scrounging for a snack an hour later.

The growth spurt hunger surge is real for teens (and tweens), and it may catch you off guard. That's okay—because we've got you covered.

When Do Teens Have Growth Spurts?

This is different for all kids, and there's a pretty broad range, says Parents advisor and pediatric dietitian Jill Castle. For males, it occurs between ages 9 and 16, and for females between 8 and 15 years.

"These ranges account for early and late bloomers," Castle explains. "The intense phase of the growth spurt goes on for about three years, from ages 12 to 15 years for boys and 10 to 13 years for girls." An appetite surge isn't the only telltale sign. There are also growing feet, more body hair, and roller-coaster emotions.

Growth spurts during the teen years are an expected part of growing up, but that doesn't make it less surprising when your kid is suddenly taller than you. Still, teens will keep growing until puberty ends. Males will reach their adult height by around 16, while females will reach their adult height by about 14 or 15. But that doesn't mean your kids are finished growing. Their muscle mass, and brain development, among other things, will keep growing and maturing.

What Nutrients Do Teens Need During a Growth Spurt?

Obviously, kids need calories to fuel all the growth and development happening. Sure, that means there's room in the diet for some treats, but nutrients are vital. In particular, protein is critical since it's the building block of all the new cells and tissues, says Castle.

"Girls especially see an increase in iron needs during the growth spurt not only because of growth but also because of iron losses associated with menstruation," she says. At age 9, your child's calcium needs rise from 1,000mg daily to 1,300—that's the calcium equivalent of a cup of milk or yogurt.

What Are The Best Foods During a Growth Spurt?

Whenever possible, choose real, actual food over shakes and protein powders, advises Castle. "Teens are still forming their eating habits, and whole foods are always packaged with other nutrients," says Castle, adding that she likes to see teens eating a variety of animal and plant protein sources (from eggs and beef to beans and quinoa). Fortified dairy or fortified plant-based milks supply protein, calcium, and vitamin D. "If teen boys or girls have a hard time eating enough, I often recommend 2% or whole milk for extra calories," she adds. Your teen also needs the fiber, vitamins, and minerals in fruits and vegetables.

One way to ensure your teen is getting that extra protein is to keep your fridge and pantry stocked with nutrient-dense, on-the-go options. A few foods to consider keeping on hand include:

  • Granola bars with nuts and dried fruit
  • Boxes of milk (even chocolate milk!)
  • Yogurt
  • Apples, pears, and oranges
  • Cheese sticks
  • Beef jerky
  • Dinner or lunch leftovers
  • A reusable water bottle to make sure they keep hydrated

One great way to help your teen learn how to make good food choices is to keep them participating in conversations about menu planning and shopping. And don't be afraid to hand your kis a spatula and have them help your prepare a few meals to get them excited about cooking with healthy, whole foods.

What If You're Worried About Your Kid's Growth?

Your pediatrician will be able to tell you if your child's growth is on track, but in the meantime, don't compare your kid to their peers. And don't jump to conclusions about how big (or small) your kid will be, and let it affect how you feed them. For instance, some parents get nervous when they notice weight gain (especially in the belly) but a lack of growth in height, says Castle.

"They may restrict calories, carbs, or portions, not realizing these fluctuations in weight are completely normal for most children," Castle tells Parents. Other parents may seek out special shakes or supplements if they think their child isn't growing tall enough. "Often, children who are slow to grow are late bloomers, just needing more time for the growth hormones to fire up," Castle says.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a Contributing Editor for Parents and a registered dietitian who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition, a no-judgements zone about feeding a family. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids and Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide. You can follow her on Facebook, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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