Your 10-year-old son grabs a sandwich before his soccer game. Your daughter has a swim meet in one hour and snacks on a candy bar and a tall glass of milk. How should you feed your growing kids to fuel their active lifestyle?
Children’s nutritional needs vary depending on their age and activity level. In spite of their differences, family members have a lot in common. Here’s what to keep in mind to energize kids for their active days.
Food as Fuel
Every child needs the same types of healthy foods. “The biggest difference among children is the amount of foods that they should eat, based on their age and activity level, says Mitzi Dulan, MS, CSSD, co-author of The All-Pro Diet: Lose Fat, Build Muscle, and Live Like a Champion.
Although a very active 17-year-old boy requires more calories, protein, and other nutrients than his 8-year-old sister, both kids should fill their plates with nutrient-rich foods, such as lean protein products, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, and healthy fats.
“A parent’s job is to provide the healthiest food, and the kids’ job is to eat it,” Nancy Clark, MS, RD, author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guide Book, tells WebMD. “Children have the ability to regulate their food intake according to their needs,” and we should allow them to eat when they are hungry, and stop when they are full.
Clark says parents should encourage the idea that food is fuel, and that it provides the energy for growth and activity.
Older boys who are interested in strength training should know that it takes strength training and a balanced diet with enough carbohydrates and protein to make bigger muscles, Clark says. Girls who worry about their weight need to be reminded that bodies come in different shapes and sizes and that eating healthy foods is top priority.
What to Eat Before and After Exercise
Working muscles need carbohydrate and water to keep going, and kids should prepare for the demands exercise makes on their bodies all day long. Eating balanced meals on a regular basis is a good start.
It’s best for children to decrease the amount of food they eat as exercise approaches. When a workout, game, or match is scheduled close to a regular meal, children may need to cut back on their usual intake, and have the rest of the meal afterward. Kids who haven’t eaten a meal for at least two hours before a workout, game, or match probably need to snack beforehand.
Clark recommends balanced snacks with 200 to 300 calories prior to exercise. Snacks should count toward good nutrition, so serve children foods that you would give them at other meals, such as half a sandwich and a glass of 100% orange juice, or trail mix made with nuts, whole grain cereal, and raisins. Account for the calories kids eat as snacks to prevent going overboard on energy intake.