The right foods for active kids

Kids and sports go together like peanut
butter and jam 

By Karen Kerr, registered holistic nutritional consultant

Most children love active play, and sports of any kind are a fantastic tool for growth and development. They learn so many life skills while challenging their little bodies to perform. Plus, it’s the perfect opportunity for parents to teach them about nutrition. 

I’m not talking about a regimented way of eating; more of a time to encourage open curiosity and connection to their own bodies. I spoke with local photographer and coach Lyndsay Doyle, who wrote Strong and Free (a book about Canadian women in sport) in 2020, and currently has two boys in sports. She reiterates that it’s “important for us to teach our kids to listen to their bodies.” I love how she acknowledges that it’s a tough balance being part of a team and looking after yourself.
Teaching kids to honour themselves is key to long term success and happiness.

Ask them questions like, “How did you feel when you played your game?” or “Did you have enough energy?” Gentle nudges allow them to connect the dots of what they ate right before or after to how they feel. That gives them the knowledge and confidence to choose wisely for themselves in the future. It should always be the goal in parenting to create a safe space for learning and gaining skills children will need long after they leave home. So, it’s important that as they get older they gain more responsibility and ownership around food. 

Obviously, younger children need us to offer the healthy options, but as your child grows get them more involved in meal planning and game-day preparation. Get them to pack the snacks and fill their own water bottle.

Kids can place a lot of pressure on themselves to perform. Healthy competition is great, but watch to see if your child is becoming obsessed over food. Unfortunately, there is a strong link between sports and disorder-eating behaviours such as anorexia and bulimia, with higher rates in “judged” sports as opposed to “refereed” ones. It’s something to look out for. 

Having a positive body image should be the goal. Kids’ growing bodies need nutrient-dense foods for proper development. Restrictive eating can have long term effects and set them down a lifelong battle of yo-yo dieting. I see it all the time. That’s why having a relaxed and intuitive way of eating is best. It’s not eating for how you look, it’s for how you feel.  

Some practical tips for game day:

  1. Hydrate, and unless kids are competing in a vigorous cardio sport like soccer, water is the best option. Sugar-laden sports drinks aren’t necessary.
  2. For sustained energy, give kids a nutrient-dense meal two hours before the game, with healthy protein, fats and fibre. 
  3. After playing, offer snacks that are light and easy to digest. I like veggies and hummus as a quick post game snack.

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