Feeding your young athlete
When my son stole the basketball at the top of the key, driving to the other end to score a layup, I whooped with pride. Like any good mom, I like to take a little credit for my kids’ successes. I beamed at my husband and said, “It was the oatcakes.”
From the day our children are born, we parents obsess over their nutrition. From breastfeeding to introducing vegetables, we devote our time to making sure they eat the right foods for growth and development. Add sports to the mix, and now we have to think about their strength and performance, too. When children start participating in competitive sports at school, clubs or recreation programs, daily practices and games result in a lot of calorie burning and muscle building. Balanced meals and snacks can help ensure that your child has the fuel she or he needs to succeed and grow.
Start the day strong
Contrary to a classic commercial campaign, it takes more than wheat flakes to properly fuel your athlete. In reality, cold cereals are actually too refined to keep your child energized for long. Cereals digest too quickly, which can lead to a drop in energy and a sluggish performance.
Instead, a combination of high fiber carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat will give your child a well-balanced meal packed with energy that will last the morning. For example, the oatcake recipe below contains oatmeal, a whole grain that is high in fiber; sunflower seeds, a healthy fat with fiber; and eggs for added protein.
Chocolate Chip Oatcakes
- 3 bananas, mashed
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup rolled oats
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds
- ¼ cup semi-sweet mini morsels toll house
Berries and Whipped cream
- Whisk together bananas, eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and salt.
- Fold in rolled oats, seeds and chocolate chips until all ingredients are evenly mixed and a batter is formed.
- Oil and heat griddle.
- Pour ¼ cup portions of the batter onto the heated griddle.
- Cook 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cooked through.
Makes about 8-10 oatcakes. Serving suggestion: Serve with turkey sausage and a cup of milk for muscle-building protein.
Balance the brown bag
For lunch, make a high fiber sandwich with 100% whole grain bread. Add lettuce and tomato for even more fiber. Pack it with a couple ounces of lean deli meat and low fat cheese for power-packed protein. Round out the meal with a piece of fruit and a low-sugar yogurt cup. The carbs in the bread, fruit and dairy will help build and replenish the glycogen in your child’s muscles and liver, which is a key source of energy during exercise.
For after school practices or games, your child will likely need to fuel up first. Again, high fiber carbs will provide the main source of energy. Pack their backpack with a large fruit like a banana, which is high in carbs and a great source of potassium, an essential electrolyte for peak muscle performance. Add some trail mix for more fiber and energy. Whole food snacks like these are far superior to many protein bars that can be high in added sugar.
- 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
- 2 Tbsp cashews
- 2 Tbsp dried cranberries
- 1 Tbsp chocolate chips
- *You can substitute a variety of nuts, seeds and dried fruit to suit your child’s needs and preferences.
Have your child measure and combine all ingredients in a small Ziploc bag. Have them prepare multiple bags at once for an easy, grab-and-go snack throughout the week.
Shake it up
After an intense game or practice, your athlete will be thirsty. A sweet smoothie made with milk, berries and nut butter not only will rehydrate, but will also replenish energy, electrolytes (potassium and sodium) and protein.
- 1 cup milk
- 3/4 cup blueberries or other berries
- 1 Tbsp peanut butter or other nut butter
- 3-4 ice cubes
Place all ingredients in a blender. Mix at high speed until smooth.
Fix dinner fast..together
After a full day at work and running around to practices and games, putting a healthy dinner on the table is a challenge for most parents. Fortunately, there are some quick fixes that can help you provide a well-balanced meal at the end of the day.
- Stock up on frozen vegetables. These can be steamed in the microwave in under 5 minutes.
- Have your child poke several holes in a potato with a fork, then bake them in the microwave on high for 9-10 minutes.
- Your child can tear lettuce while you slice tomatoes, cucumbers and other veggies for a fresh salad.
- Cook a large pot of brown rice at the beginning of the week, then reheat as needed throughout the week.
- Use easy crockpot recipes to have meals waiting for you when you come home. Crockpot meals are quick to throw together and a much healthier choice than the drive-thru.
Slow Cooker Steak Fajitas
- 3 lbs sirloin or top round steak, sliced thin
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 lime
- ½ cup water
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced into strips
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
- 1 sliced onion
- Set slow cooker to low.
- Place steak into the pot and sprinkle all seasonings on top.
- Squeeze the lime juice over the meat.
- Add ½ cup water.
- Top with sliced peppers and onions.
- Cover and cook for 8-10 hours.
- Serve with whole grain tortillas or over brown rice. Round out the meal with a fresh salad that you and your child make together.
- Tip: For an easier morning, prepare the ingredients the night before. Combine the meat, seasonings, lime juice and water in a ziploc bag and marinate in the fridge overnight. Slice the vegetables and keep in a separate container. When morning comes, just pour the meat and marinade into the crockpot, top with the peppers and onions, and turn the crockpot to low.
Stay hydrated throughout the day
Make sure your child has a water bottle to refill throughout the day and for games and practices. If your athlete is eating healthy meals and snacks like the examples described here, he or she will get all the nutrients and electrolytes they need to fuel their day and their game without the need for sports drinks.
Set a good example
Preparing balanced meals and snacks with your young athlete will not only keep them strong and energized, but it will also teach them the skills they need to lead a healthy, active life on and off the court.
J. Barretto Patterson is a registered dietitian and a health blogger. Read more from her at thefeelingsnackyfix.com.