Bush Kids

Children and Nature

Category Archives: Bush Cooking

Active Kids and Nutrition

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Iskiate anyone? A nutritious energy drink in the car on the way home from swim squad.

Most children are naturally very active and love to run, skip, jump and tear around. Whilst the ever-encroaching influence of ‘screen’ time means that some children are doing this less and less, our family spends most of our time being active outside. Our children also participate regularly in organised sport: swimming in the summer, skiing and soccer over the winter months.

Active children need constant refuelling and hydrating – indeed sometimes I feel like I am the provider of a never-ending stream of food and drink. When we head out to participate in training, a sports event, or just a big active day, I make sure I have a snack bag with plenty of nutritious food to keep us going until we get home.

Have you noticed how when you go for a walk with kids, they don’t just stroll steadily along – they climb, sprint backwards and forwards, and generally expend at least double the energy it takes an adult to walk the same path. Children’s bodies and minds need nourishing whole foods throughout the day in order to maintain their energy, to perform at their potential, to boost immunity, and to grow healthily.

I must admit that I am regularly horrified by what parents feed their children during and after sport. There appears to be a broad acceptance of the notion that if children have just spent some time engaged in serious exercise, then they have earnt the right to a treat (lollies, ice creams, soft drinks, junk food). This seems to underline an idea that sport/exercise/being active is seen (by many parents) as extraordinary, rather than a normal part of childhood, and therefore something which must be rewarded with “treats”.  In addition, the food on offer at canteens or similar at sports venues is, in my experience in country areas at least, typically unhealthy and unsuitable to provide for the high energy needs of children.

You might think it impossible to find the spare 15 minutes it takes to prepare these healthy snacks as you are racing to get organised and get out the door, particularly if you have smaller children to get ready too. But consider that if you find yourself post-activity with no prepared food, you will likely spend at least that time ordering and waiting for take-away, or going to the supermarket, or waiting for the canteen to reheat your pie in the microwave. Finding yourself with hungry kids without something nourishing to provide them is not convenient: it leads to poor food choices under pressure and doesn’t do our children any favours.

Food writer Michael Pollan argues that homecooking is correlated to better overall family health, and that this cuts across classes – i.e a lower socio-economic family who cooks at home will, on average, have higher health levels than a higher socio-economic family who can afford to eat out but spends less time preparing food at home. Establishing health eating habits in general but also in relation to sport is critical for later life. Active kids need good nutrition: the foods and fluids consumed by active kids have a major impact on their ability to train, compete and recover well.

Some of the quick snacks we take along with us to sport or during an active day are:

  • homemade popcorn
  • fruit smoothies: pack them full of yoghurt, honey, all sorts of seasonal goodness, and keep some frozen bananas, berries and mango in the freezer – frozen fruit makes the smoothies thicker and creamier and keeps them cold longer. Pour it all in a big thermos to keep cool and have some cups to hand it around in.
  • quick and wholesome home-baked goodness: It takes no more than 15 minutes to whip up wholegrain/fruit-based baked items: think yoghurt banana bread, blueberry lemon wholewheat scones, carrot banana and coconut muffins packed with nuts and seeds from Jude Blereau’s Wholefood for Children, or these delicious homemade muesli bars from Nikki.
  • our latest favourite is an all-natural sports drink: the famous iskiate from Mexico’s Tarahumara tribe of the rugged Copper Canyons (known as the ‘running people’ for their ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury). This chia, lime and agave/honey drink is the ultimate in refreshing booster drinks and the sustaining and reviving properties of chia make it a fantastic choice to maintain energy levels during serious activity. It takes just a few minutes to throw together and store in a large thermos cup.
  • a big container full of veggie sticks: as we are often returning home from sports just before dinner, I don’t like to ruin appetites by offering too much. Our tried-and-true afternoon snack at home is a big platter of cut up veggies. Add hummus or a tuna dip, or just a bit of nut spread (we love these). The evening veggie platter – at home or on the go – is a big winner for us as it makes sure kids eat handfuls of fresh raw goodness just at the time they are at their hungriest (but doesn’t fill them up before dinner).

Fed up with the scourge of the super lolly python after sport? Try some home-made iskiate instead – the super fuel of the Tarahumara – my kids love the idea that this is an energy drink from an ancient tribe of super-athletes!

What foods do you take with you as nutritious fuel for your active kids?