Back-to-School Nutrition for Active Kids

This article was featured in The ‘Hood Magazine in June, so it is worth posting here now that some kids are going back to school and starting sports, and because August is Kids Eat Right Month.

Back to school time is a great “fresh start” for things like school supplies and clothing, but it can also be a great chance to get kids into new habits, like packing snacks, making their own lunches, and eating breakfast on a regular basis.

Returning to school can also mean returning to busy schedules filled with extra curricular activities and sports for kids and teens. Don’t forget to make good nutrition a part of that back-to-school routine to support growth and development, and help fuel your kids throughout the day.

Good nutrition has benefits beyond healthy growth and development. Breakfast, in particular, has been linked to better school performance, less weight gain, and lower body mass indexes (BMIs) in kids. A healthy breakfast sets kids up for healthy meals and snacks the rest of the day, and reduces the likelihood of overeating or choosing junk foods to curb their hunger later in the day.

Kids involved in sports have even greater nutrient needs. They require extra calories to fuel exercise or training schedules in addition to calories and nutrients needed to maintain normal growth and development. Plan for three balanced meals, healthy snacks, and plenty of water during the day.

Create balanced meals by including as many of these food groups as possible at each meal. For example, if your child likes toast for breakfast, add a piece of fruit and a source of protein, like eggs, to make the meal complete.

  • Lean protein (meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds): Better options are usually grilled, baked, or roasted.
  • Vegetables and fruit (mostly vegetables): Eat at least one serving per meal and snack.
  • Whole grains (bread, pasta, rice, cereal, oatmeal, etc.): Choose products that say “100% whole grain” for more fiber and nutrients, and help your child feel fuller for longer.
  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt): These foods are a good source of protein and carbohydrates, and contain calcium and vitamin D to promote healthy bones.
  • Water is important, especially if kids are exercising. Encourage kids to carry a refillable water bottle and refill it several times per day. Sports drinks should really only be consumed if kids are exercising for  a long duration, or very intensely, in a hot/humid environment – water should be the drink of choice most of the time.

Because snacks can make up a significant part of kids’ diets, suggest healthier snacks that combine protein with a complex carbohydrate (whole grain, fruit or vegetable). For example, instead of traditional chips or cookies, go for mixed nuts and an apple, half a peanut butter and jelly or Greek yogurt with berries and granola. It’s okay to eat sweets or snack foods once in a while, but there are more nutrient-dense options kids should be eating most of the time to fuel their active bodies.

Check out these 5 school lunches kids can make themselves, or these 10 back to school lunches, which are great for kids and adults with busy schedules.

This article on Sports Nutrition for the School-Aged Athlete talks about making sports nutrition part of your daily ROUTINE, which is an important topic. Good nutrition only works when families are in a nutrition routine, where meals and snacks are either planned ahead of time or they know which options are healthy when eating out or throwing together a quick meal with what’s available.

Sports Fueling for Kids is a fun infographic that emphasizes the importance of breakfast, snacks, and post-game meals!