Good Nutrition For Kids: Fuelling Them For School & Sports

Words by Christine Rocha

Providing your children with the best nourishment during their early years of growth and development is a long term investment in their health and well-being. Energy requirements are even higher for active junior athletes, who are constantly training and competing. Ensuring they have the right energy supply before, during and after training allows them to stay alert, maintain stamina, play better and recover quicker.

How much food do my kids need? Where should they get most of their energy from?

Growing kids need important nutrients from the foods they eat: protein, especially during growth spurts, calcium for strong bones and teeth, and iron for healthy brain function. The amount of food needed from day to day varies with a child’s age, gender, height, weight and physical activity level. It is important that they get most of their energy from a variety of wholesome nourishing fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrain, lentils, beans, lean meats and dairy foods. Eating whole foods maximises your child’s consumption of natural, unprocessed nutrients just as Mother Nature intended, ensuring healthy growth and development.

How often do you hear the phrase “as part of a balanced diet”? In reality, how many of us know exactly what a balance diet is? Variety is the key! Encourage your kids from a young age to try a range of different foods (fresh is always best) and if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again! Kids can be fussy eaters but just add a little to their plates every time you cook a new food. Be their role model and demonstrate good eating habits – if they still resist, try again in a few months. Persistence pays off!

How much extra food do active kids need?

Budding junior athletes require energy for growth and development, and even more energy to make up for what they burn off during training sessions, so the amount of food your child eats varies with their daily school and training schedule.

Different sports have varying levels of physical demand and therefore require varying amounts of nourishment. Numerically speaking, the energy requirement for a 12-year-old boy who is involved in a heavy activity sporting schedule, rugby training three times a week as well as competitive weekend games, is approximately 11,600 kilojoules per day. A boy of the same age who partakes in lighter activity, a weekly two hour swim for instance, will require a total daily energy intake of about 9300kJ. No matter what sport they play, the right nutrition can help your child’s performance, tailoring their food requirements to their needs is the first step towards achieving this goal.

Dehydration during sport

Overheating and dehydration are a risk for kids playing sport, so always ensure your child drinks plenty of water before and during training to prevent dehydration. Steer away from sports drinks and instead use ingredients from your fridge to create your own delicious post-training nourishment to replenish key minerals and electrolytes such as sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium. A few ideas include:

  • Lemonade: juice of 1 lemon (or lime) + 1 cup water + ½ tsp salt + ½ tsp honey
  • Green smoothie: Blend 1 cup baby spinach + 1 kiwifruit + ½ banana + 1 cup water
  • Nut smoothie: Blend ½ cup milk + banana + ½ tsp peanut butter
  • Fruit smoothie: Blend ½ cup milk + berries + 2 tbsp yoghurt

Before training: ‘on the go’ snacks

Portable, pre-made snacks are a great way to deliver nourishing carbohydrates to regularly top up kid’s energy. Aim to have a selection of healthy snack options available so kids can help themselves to something wholesome after a long tiring day of school and sports. Easy on the go snacks include:

  • Fruit (fresh or canned)
  • Crumpets or fruit toast
  • Yoghurt or custard
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Honey/jam or peanut butter sandwiches
  • Breakfast cereal
Homemade pizza is a family favourite

Homemade pizza is a family favourite

After training meal ideas

Two to three hours post-training, encourage children to drink lots of fluids and eat carbohydrate rich foods, such as:

Encourage healthier eating habits after the game

Fastfood is a common reward after a big day of playing sport, but practice moderation and make this is a rare treat. Home-cooked meals are a better alternative to ensure your child is receiving the nutrients needed to recover.

Opting for a home cooked, family meal on the other nights of the week also has benefits. Not only does this allow families to communicate and spend some time together, it gives kids a chance to develop better eating habits by watching and learning from their role models – you! If possible, prepare some of the meal before the game and have snacks ready for your young achievers.

Sample meal plan for a 12 year old with sporting commitments

Rugby, netball, cricket, soccer, basketball, swimming – all these intensive sports take up a lot of energy, so fuel your little athlete with this sample meal plan:

  • Breakfast: wholegrain cereal + boiled egg + piece of fruit
  • Morning tea: fruit muffin OR 30g trail mix + small juice popper
  • Lunch: wholegrain pita pocket with ham, cheese and salad OR roasted vegies filling
  • Before training/afternoon tea: peanut butter sandwich
  • During training: water or homemade lemonade
  • Just after training: water + 125g tub yoghurt OR fruit smoothie
  • Dinner: chicken stir fry with vegies + rice OR pasta 

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