the myth of the hungry teen

Teenagers are huge eaters, or at least that’s what I hear. I have read countless posts in which mothers detail their never-ending struggle to keep their teens’ tummies full. We need more nourishing snacks! they plead. We’re running out of ideas! At a family reunion, someone suggested we have a grazing bar for the teens, as though teens are insatiable beasts and must be kept appeased at all times.

Ever since the kids were little—and probably before they were even born—I looked forward to feeding a pack of teenagers. I’d be able to cook anything I wanted, and lots of it, too, and then I’d get the satisfaction of watching my children enthusiastically devour the food with gusto, no complaining. Furthermore, in the hollow-leg stage, there would be no such thing as “watching it”—for a few glorious years, the kids would be able to feast on all the cinnamon buns and chocolate cake they wanted and then, never full, turn right around and gobble down baked potatoes, veggie soup, and tomato sandwiches. What fun!

Alas, this has not been my experience. My teens eat boringly healthy quantities of food, get full, and stop. Unless it’s something they love, they rarely take seconds. They don’t snack, either. Sometimes—and this is the thing I find most baffling—if it’s not a meal they like, they’re fine saying no thanks and patiently waiting until the next meal. So much for this teen plague of persistent hunger.

Maybe it’s too early to talk. Perhaps they’ll turn 17 or 18 and suddenly be overcome with episodic bouts of starvation. I really don’t know. It’s just that from where I sit right now, the whole teens-are-bottomless-pits talk is, I’m sad to say, just that. Talk.

So what’s your story? Are you one of those moms frantically searching the web for a good homemade granola bar recipe? Or are you, too, crushed by their non-energetic appetites?

An Abject Mother Cook

PS. I’m not that abject. The kids have healthy appetites, and I get plenty of chances to cook. Still, I have been surprised at the absence of a noticeable appetite shift, especially now that they’re shooting up like weeds. I find it curious, that’s all.

PPS. Now my nine year old, on the other hand… When that kid gets hungry, he’s frantic. If I don’t toss some food his way right quick, all hell breaks loose.

PPPS. Re that photo: he only ate about two-thirds of that stack before passing the plate to his hovering grandaddy. (Now there’s a man who can eat.)

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.29.14), a different angle, chocolate birthday cake with vanilla water frosting, ciabatta, dumping: a list, butterscotch cookies, and peposo.


  • Anonymous

    Jennifer, i have missed you, it has been 10 days since your last post, i check your blog everyday to check on update, hope all is well for you and your family..

    • Jennifer Jo

      This is the sweetest comment—thank you for caring!

      All is well. We're just in the middle of a busy month, plus we're experiencing some unexpected computer issues and the accompanying transitions. I'll be back soon!

  • Margo

    fascinating. I always thought like you did. But I must say, my 7-year-old is putting away the food like crazy. I have noticed an absence of leftovers and an increase in milk purchasing. Yikes.

  • Camille

    I have mothered three teenage sons and now, Emma is officially a *teen*, and I concur….two main things contribute to the hollow leg around here….activity levels and growth spurts. I have observed that copious amounts of food are consumed just before a big spurt up in height. Then, it tapers right off. Calvin has leveled out and eats normally these days…but, Fraser eats twice as much as his big brother. I expect him to be taller by next week. Interesting, isn't it, how it goes? If they are growing normally and stop when they are full….all's good. Enjoy the journey. 🙂

  • Lizzy

    The teen has hollow legs and will eat prodigious amounts. For us it's nice that he's hungry. He has a wonky metabolism and for most of his life has just not felt hungry, so resistant to our efforts to feed him as needed. The tween is a little and often gal and seems not to change…

  • dbWVogel

    I had about a 1-year phase of eating everything in sight, about age 16. Then I got started in theatre and began forgetting meals. Sigh.

  • Unknown

    I have four younger brothers. Two of them eat A LOT, two of them are more likely to pick and poke. I guess it just depends on the individual (and possibly their activity level: the two with big appetites have always been more active, whether organized sports or just running wildly around the living room).

  • Mavis

    My daughter eats until she is full and then walks away. My son, well, he pecks at his food. My husband is a light eater too. Sometimes I feel like I eat more than all three of them combined on any given day. It's mind boggling how everyone is so different.

  • Becky

    I think if they eat real food, they get a chance to feel full. If teenagers eat nothing but junk, it's no wonder their bodies keep telling them they're hungry. I suspect your teens real food diet has a lot to do with their lack of "hollow leg". I'm hoping that will be the case for me when my kids become teens in a few years. 🙂

  • Kathy ~ Artful Accents

    I have to say that my youngest son most definitely fulfills the bottomless-pit-teen-sterotype. He can easily eat 6+ pancakes at one sitting. And often he will eat several helpings at supper, then gulp down a huge bowl of cereal right afterwards. However, my oldest (who is a runner) is a complete health freak! And I find myself not making those cinnamon buns because I know they will tempt him. He will eat copious amounts of fruit though, that's exciting!

    • Jennifer Jo

      My son can eat 6+ pancakes, too (I think there were 8 or 9 in that stack), but then he's done. And he might not eat much at the next meal. There's none of this turning around and eating more food an hour later. THAT'S the part I find surprising.

  • Becky

    Mine has always been a three square meals a day kind of girl, although she's been hankering for snacks here lately, which is a very new development. She's always had friends who come through that will eat everything in sight and now that they are all teens, it is sort of mind blowing how much they can eat in such a short time. When her bff is over, I've noticed we'll go through a jar of pb, a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk in a day.

  • Jennifer Chappell Deckert

    My kids have been crazed eaters during their teenage years, but it is not a steady thing…like growth spurts, there are times when they are CRAZY hungry and other times, not so much. It also depends on activity. When my 17 year old is swimming, we can't give her enough…

    • Jennifer Jo

      My kids aren't doing sports, but they are working 8-10 hour days doing manual labor. Their packed lunches are simple, sometimes bordering on skimpy. I don't get it.

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