Short, dark and cold Winter days often mean busy parents are less motivated to wake up early and prepare kids lunches, or to spend as much time after work preparing dinner. This makes forward planning and meal preparation even more essential. Eating healthy, well balanced meals, will help your child athlete perform at their peak.
So, we’ve prepared you this guide to providing warming and nutritious meals and snacks during the cooler months.
All kids need to consume a variety of healthy foods, including:
- Protein: found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts and dairy foods. Kids do NOT need protein supplements. Protein assists in building and repairing muscles, but too much protein can cause dehydration and calcium loss. Protein foods should be spread over the day, having some with each meal and most snacks.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are a very important energy sources for young athletes. The best sources of these are fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods, such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, wholegrain bread and cereal.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium and iron are two important minerals for active kids. Calcium is essential for building strong bones, which are less likely to break or fracture. Childhood is the peak time to build bone mass. Low fat dairy products such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, and leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, kale and bok choy, are all calcium-rich foods. Iron assists in carrying oxygen around the body to the different parts that need it, and assists in proper functioning of the immune system to help fight infection. Lean meat, chicken, tuna, salmon, eggs, leafy green vegetables and fortified whole grains are all iron-rich foods. Milo and baked beans are also good sources of iron. Different vitamins are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, poultry and fish. Supplements are no substitute for eating well-balanced diets, and aren’t necessary for kids unless advised by a healthcare professional.
- Fats: Kids do need some fat too, but should receive adequate amounts in meat, cheese, nuts, and more. Try to avoid both saturated-fat and trans-fat which slow digestion and may leave your child tired and sluggish during a game. These are often found in processed and junk foods. Unsaturated fats are still high in kilojoules, so it is important to keep quantities small. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends daily: 2 serves for adolescents 14 – 18 years old, 1 ½ for kids 12 – 13 years, and 1 serve for kids 3 – 12 years of age. One serve is equivalent to: 10g of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated spread, 7g of olive or canola oil, or 10g tree nuts.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend the following rough daily intakes for active kids aged 9 – 11 years
- Fruits: 2 servings. One serving is equivalent to 2 small apricots, 1 cup of diced fruit with no added sugar, or 1 medium piece of fruit.
- Vegetables: 5 servings. One serving is 1 cup of leafy or raw vegetables, or ½ cup cooked green or orange vegetables.
- Grains: 5 servings. One serving could be the equivalent of ½ cup cooked oats, 1 slice of bread or ¼ cup of muesli.
- Dairy: 2 ½ servings. One serving is equal to 1 cup of milk, ¾ cups of yoghurt, or 2 slices of cheese.
- Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes/beans: 2 ½ servings. One standard serving is 2 large eggs, 170g tofu, 30g nuts, or 65g cooked lean red meats.
For more information and guidelines for other age groups, see: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/five-food-groups
The cold weather numbs the thirst mechanism, making kids feel less thirsty despite significant sweat loss. Children are not as good as regulating their body temperature as adults are, and they are more likely to become dehydrated. This is because they heat up faster, and sweat 40% less. Water is the best option for, during, before and after sport. Fruit juice is another good choice, but soft drinks and energy drinks should be avoided. Sports drinks are not usually necessary and are designed to be consumed when playing an hour or more of strenuous physical activity.
In colder weather, remind your child not to wait until they are already feeling thirsty to drink, but rather, to practise regular, small sips of water. If your child is used to drinking during training, they will likely feel more comfortable rehydrating during games. During a game, it is advised to drink a small amount of water, roughly every 20 minutes.
Breakfast fuels your kids and kick starts them for the day ahead. After 8 – 12 hours without food, breakfast is essential to replenish energy levels. Whole grain cereals with milk or low-fat yoghurt are great choices, but on cold mornings your kids might want something warm and hearty. Porridge made with oats or quinoa will do the trick, as will spaghetti or baked beans on wholegrain toast, eggs, or creamed riced with stewed apples and cinnamon.
For mornings when you’re pressed for time and racing out the door, having a batch of banana bread breakfast muffins in the freezer ready to warm up in the microwave makes for a quick, warming breakfast.
Provide a glass of milk or water with the breakfast meal.
Small and regular snacks are important to keep energy levels topped up.
Some ideas for healthy, warming snacks include: hot chocolate or Milo, one half of a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich, a cup of thick soup, one crumpet with cheese or a small amount of honey, or warm fruit and muesli crumbles.
Lunch and dinner
This time of year, kids usually get a little bit fussier and want alternatives to sandwiches for their school lunch. As the weather cools down, we crave warm and nutritious meals and our kids are no different. For packed school lunches, thermal lunch boxes are a great option. Time conscious parents should prepare and freeze meals in advance, or even pack leftover dinner for school. Lunch is the essential fuel source when your child has training or competition after school. On these days lunch should be hearty and feature as many food groups as possible.
If you have a fussy eater, involving them in the preparation of their meals and snacks will make them more likely to want to eat the food. You don’t need anything fancy and you shouldn’t need to spend more than 5 minutes making lunchboxes.
At dinner time, whole grain pasta and stir fries with lots of vegetables and some lean meat are a quick, tasty option that can double as a hearty lunch the following day. Mini frittatas made in muffin cups can be made in bulk and frozen to enjoy for dinner with a side of vegetables, or taken to school.
We hope you found this information useful. At Australian Sports Camps, we’re big believers in proper sports nutrition all year round. Our 3-day school holiday sports coaching programs always incorporate set breaks for rest and adequate rehydration. We also recommend that parents provide a healthy lunch. In addition, ASC provides fruit snacks daily for optimal camp performance.