A Guide for Parents
We’re proud to offer a series of articles written by our consulting physician, Alan Greene, MD. Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com, an award-winning online resource about children’s health, and the author of Raising Baby Green. He is on the Board of Directors for The Organic Center, Healthy Child Healthy World, and on the advisory board of Pregnancy Awareness Month. Dr. Greene provides consulting services for, and is paid a fee by, Horizon Organic.
The Game Plan: Healthy Nutrition for Children
Nutritional Intelligence is the ability to recognize and enjoy healthy amounts of good foods. This is an important life skill; it’s also an important sports skill. What kids eat matters to performance and can give them an edge. Kids’ ability to have sustained energy throughout a game is fueled by what and how they eat and drink. Kids’ muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, joints, and eyes are built from what they eat and drink. It’s what they eat and drink that is used to repair injuries when they happen.
A. Healthy Snacks for Kids Before The Game
Eating a complete meal just before a game or practice can leave a player feeling too full, while having extra blood flow diverted to the intestines to help with digestion. This isn’t ideal for strength, agility, or endurance.
On the other hand, playing without having eaten for several hours can decrease performance as well —even if the child doesn’t feel hungry.
I suggest a healthy snack for kids containing some protein and some healthy carbohydrates within an hour before starting, such as a banana or a healthy granola bar or trail mix and some lowfat organic milk. Milk is the number one source of protein for kids age 2 to 11.
Ideally, I would like to see kids have a meal 2 to 4 hours before a game, and the meal contain some fruit, veggies, whole grain (at least half of grains should be whole), and lean sources of protein and calcium. This might be a sandwich on whole grain bread, an apple, and some organic lowfat milk.
Water should be freely available before game time.
Things To Avoid Right Before The Game:
1. Things that take a long time to digest (hamburgers, steaks, hot dogs)
2. High sugar foods (doughnuts, cookies, soda)
3. Other junk food (potato chips, tortilla chips, French fries)
B. Healthy Halftime Snacks
This is a great time for some quick refueling with healthy halftime snacks, including easy to digest fruit, such as oranges, watermelon, grapes, or strawberries —along with plenty of water. Again, water should be freely available.
Things To Avoid At Halftime:
Watch out for juice boxes, fruit drinks, or even sweetened sports drinks, whether sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
C. Healthy Snacks For Kids After The Game
Rehydrate and enjoy foods low in saturated fat and high in healthy carbohydrate within 15 minutes of finishing. Bring out any leftover fruit from half time. The rest of the after game snacks should taste good, too. You might consider whole grain bagels with organic lowfat cream cheese; organic lowfat yogurt with fruit, granola, or whole grain graham crackers; string cheese and whole grain crackers, popcorn, trail mix, healthy granola bars, sandwiches, dried apricots, grapes, or ants on a log.
The snack doesn’t need to be dessert. If you do want something sweet like cookies, consider oatmeal raisin cookies to get some fiber and other nutrients with the sweetness.
Single serve lowfat chocolate milk is another satisfying, recovery treat with a whole food to give ballast to the sweetness.
Or if you have time, you may want to share a meal together, such as whole grain waffles with fruit, after a morning game, or grilled chicken sandwiches after an afternoon game, perhaps with a watermelon or fruit salad.
Things To Avoid After The Game:
Foods you don’t want to deepen your child’s attachment to.
Sports nutrition for kids is important. Paying attention to your child’s nutritional needs and providing before, during and after the game can give them a winning edge —not just on the field, but in the classroom, too.
1.Miller et al, Handbook of Dairy Foods and Nutrition 2007
2.Rafferty, K., and R.P. Heaney. J. Nutr. 138: 166s, 2008.