This blog post comes as a response to all of the wonderful questions asked by the parents of the XIP Kid’s Camp athletes. When Coach Guyer shared these questions with me it reinforced in my mind the challenge that parents face on a daily basis – what the heck am I supposed to feed my kid?!?
In a society of excess and variety to a fault, it is challenging enough to make the “right” nutrition choices for ourselves – (should I cut out all carbs? Would I feel better if I went vegan? My friend did a juice cleanse and lost 5 pounds, maybe I should try that?...you get my point!)
So it is beyond understandable that there would be some ambivalence regarding what the “right” nutrition choices are for a child. I’ve got good news for you – the guidelines for kid’s nutrition are pretty simple. That’s not to say that implementation of new habits is ever easy, but the principles are not over-complicated and and with some dedication to the cause you WILL be able to fuel your kids for success!
Guideline # 1:
Eat Real Food – this applies to the whole family! <—I can’t stress this enough! Kids are little sponges, they develop their nutrition habits early on by watching and trying what the people around them are eating. If the foods available to them are whole, minimally processed options like fruits, veggies, protein, whole grains etc. that is what they will eat. If they can easily access highly processed foods and beverages like candy, soda, most breakfast cereals & snack bars, chicken nuggets, mac&cheese etc, then these will be the foods they prefer and seek out. It is crucial to understand how much this influence affects kids choices now and later in life.
Guideline # 2:
Feed your kids Complete Meals. A complete meal includes veggies, protein, minimally processed carbohydrates and some healthy fat. This could be as simple as half a peanut butter & jelly sandwich on whole grain bread, a Greek yogurt & your kids favorite snacking veggies (like carrots, or sugar snap peas.) The bread = carbs, peanut butter = healthy fat, greek yogurt = protein and carrots & sugar snap peas = veggies.
If kids are consuming three complete meals a day, then you can be fairly certain that they are hitting all of their macronutrient requirements.
Encourage Hydration. As little as 2% dehydration can have a drastic effect on kids performance in the classroom, in a workout, or on the playing field. Encouraging your child to have water or milk with each meal and to carry a water bottle with them at school, practice or games will help ensure that they don’t become negatively effected by dehydration. Water and milk should be the primary beverages available, with limited access to juice and soda. In situations where it is extremely hot and your child may need additional rehydration and electrolyte replenishment during or after a game, regular milk or chocolate milk are great options. If your child has trouble stomaching these during a game situation, a sports drink is also fine.
Snack Smarter. If your kids are regular participants in sports, training or other physical activity, chances are they will be hungry and need snacks before or after their activities in addition to their three complete meals. This can be a common area for confusion – what constitutes a healthy snack? During most activities your kids bodies will call on carbohydrates as their first source of energy, so providing them with snack that includes a quick digesting carbohydrate source – like fruit, will give them the immediate energy they need to fuel their activity. The other purpose this snack serves is to prevent muscle protein breakdown – adding a little bit of protein, for example having a handful of nuts or some nut butter, with the fruit will make it the perfect combination! If you’re carting your kid from one activity to the next and need a one-stop-shop option, chocolate milk or Greek yogurt are great choices too!
Guideline # 5:
Eat Together. While practice schedules, work requirements and life in general can sometimes make this challenging; planning, preparing and eating healthy meals as a family as often as possible contributes greatly to your child’s nutrition habits now and for the rest of their lives. Allowing your kids to help choose what veggie they want to go with dinner or teaching them how you prepare their favorite meals will give them ownership over their nutrition from a
very young age. Sitting down as a family, and eating the same meal together reinforces the healthy habits that you are trying to teach your kids while sharing valuable time together.
…. Take a look at which of these guidelines you aren’t currently implementing on a consistent basis and pick one to work on at a time. Once it feels like a comfortable habit for you and your family, try another. The cumulative impact of these nutrition behaviors will make your family healthier and fuel your kids for success!