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Fitness: Feeding Your Child Athlete

If you have active and athletic kids like mine who participate in sports, you try your best to provide them with foods they need to compete and to meet their nutrient needs. Easier said than done, I know. But no worries! To help you better feed your sporty kids, check out the following excerpt from the comprehensive and informative new book, Eat Like a Champion, by my colleague, registered dietitian nutritionist Jill Castle.

It’s a Balancing Act

Thoughtful meal planning should target at least four of the five food groups (protein, dairy, fruit, vegetable, and grain) in every meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you can include all five in all three meals, terrific! This strategy alone will increase the likelihood that your athletes will get the important nutrients they need every day. When I plan meals, I always start with the protein source and work from there. I then plan the vegetable and/or fruit, grain, and dairy. Weekends tend to be our planned dessert nights (often it’s ice cream) and I stock my kitchen with healthy fats (olive oil, safflower oil, and canola oil).

            When you use a food group approach to meal planning, it’s really a matter of filling in the blanks. For example, breakfast may include scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast, strawberries, and a glass of low-frat milk. Lunch may be a deli meat sandwich (containing grain, protein, dairy, vegetables, and fat) with a side of carrots and yogurt. Dinner could be chicken, green beans, banana slices, quinoa, and milk. The old saying, “Variety is the spice of life” holds true with food. Keep the variety coming within the different food groups, as it will keep your athletes more interested in eating and help you successfully cover their nutrition needs.

Practical Tips for Balanced Meals

  • Include fruit and milk (or a milk substitute) with every meal, even dinner. It’s a great way to round out the meal, and many athletes will readily eat these foods.
  • Thumbs down on veggies? If your athlete isn’t a fan, continue to offer them anyway. It may simply be a matter of time before he or she warms up to certain veggies. In the meantime, add fruits to your menu—they are a decent stand-in for veggies and contain similar nutrients.
  • Start your planning for each meal with a protein source, whether it’s meat, fish, beans or eggs. This focus will help you meet your family’s protein needs, avoid erratic protein intake, and space protein consumption evenly throughout the day.
  • Combination foods like lasagna, pizza, and other casseroles cover more than one food group and count toward the overall food group balance. Just add a side of milk, vegetable, and/or fruit to these entrees.
  • If your athlete loves bread and other refined grains, gradually work in whole grains. For instance, mix white and brown rice, or whole wheat and regular pasta, in a 1:1 ratio; purchase whole white wheat bread (made from a wheat that’s white in color rather than brown, which is milder in flavor, and contains the nutritional profile of traditional whole wheat). For dessert, try baking cookies and brownies with whole-wheat flour.
  • Stock your pantry and refrigerator with healthy fats, such as olive oil, safflower, or canola oil. Use them for cooking, baking, and salad dressings. Butter, shortening, and stick margarine are high in saturated fats, so a little goes a long way.
  • Food repeats are boring. Don’t offer the same foods over and over, like bananas and green beans. Challenge yourself to increase the variety within each food group.


Source: Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete by Jill Castle                                              

© 2015 Jill Castle                                              

All rights reserved.

Published by AMACOM Books

Division of American Management Association

1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019

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About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books and is currently working on her first novel. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook.

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