How are you and your kids staying active this summer? Sports, the park, maybe a playdate or two? Just like adults, it is important for kids to move their bodies and get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Staying active helps children grow strong muscles and bones, reduces anxiety and depression, controls weight, and manages energy levels.
It is also equally as important to fuel your children’s bodies with the right foods before, during, and after exercise in order to get maximum benefits! This does not have to be elaborate or expensive. Simply try to model good behavior and give your children the resources and knowledge to make healthy and intuitive decisions on food that helps fuel them in preparation for and recovery from exercise.
Straight From The Source
In order to get an accurate depiction of kids’ knowledge of food and exercise, I headed straight to the source by interviewing the two kids that I nanny. For the sake of their privacy, I am going to refer to them as Timmy, a 5-year-old boy, and Sarah, an 8-year-old girl.
They live an active lifestyle with their family and spend most of the days outside. I asked them three questions each about their thoughts on food and exercise separate, and then how food and exercise work together.
The questions I asked them were: How do you like to stay active? What are snacks you consider healthy? What do you eat before, during and after exercising? Why?
I was quite surprised by their answers and to hear they know more than I thought! This would also be a great activity to try with your kids to discuss their own knowledge and see where you can make adjustments.
Kid-Approved Exercises: How do you like to stay active?
Timmy and Sarah said they like to get their bodies moving by swimming, playing soccer and baseball, running on the playground, and doing outdoor games with their friends at camp. When I asked Sarah about specific ideas, she suggested doing jumping jacks and the game “Freeze Tag.” These ideas are all kid-approved and fairly inexpensive.
If cost is a concern (or if you just need a new activity!), look for free events at your local community centers or libraries. There are lots of planned events in the summer to encourage an active lifestyle for children. Here is a more extensive list of activities to do with your children that are creative and low cost!
The Healthy Foods: What are healthy snacks?
After discussing exercise with the kids, I asked them if they could name some healthy snacks for me. A few of the main things they listed were apples, carrots with ranch, a peanut butter sandwich, Veggie Straws, and crackers with cheese. It is amazing what kids already know. As an experiment, I offered Sarah and Timmy the option of a cookie or apple for snack time. As I expected, they chose the cookie even though they told me an apple was a healthy snack! This is not because they do not know which is healthier, but because they did not have time to think about it or reflect.
Perhaps asking what they would like for a healthy snack would render better results. Researcher Ernesto Reuben conducted a research study on kids choosing healthy foods and was quoted saying, “With kids, they’re not eating badly because of lack of information but mostly because of impulsivity. They knew so well how healthy each food was and still many of them didn’t want to choose them.”
I think this can tell us that some children know what healthy snacks consist of, but might not be given the option or time to choose that. Have a conversation with your kids. Before eating, ask them why that food would be healthy fuel for them. Our jobs as parents/guardians is to provide the options and it’s the child who decides what and how much.
Before, During, and After Exercise: What do you eat?
Lastly, I asked the kids to connect these questions. How do eating and exercise affect each other? Both Timmy and Sarah said they would have a peanut butter or ham and cheese sandwich before sports/exercise. When asked why, Sarah said the peanut butter and wheat have protein that will make them “powered up.” She was right! In more adult terms, eating protein before exercising is key to building muscle while working out, along with consuming carbohydrates to provide energy. Also, make sure to have kids drink plenty of water before exercise to keep their body hydrated.
As far as during exercise goes, the main conclusion Timmy and Sarah came to was that water was the best option to “give you energy and make you strong, fast, and powerful,” in their words. Drinking water is vital during exercise to avoid cramping. Also, try coconut water, water with fruit slices added, or this homemade electrolyte drink: use a combination of 100% fruit juice, coconut water, and a pinch of salt.
After exercising is when the kids said to drink more water, and eat a snack such as a clementine or a smoothie. Here is a list of 10 foods kids can eat after exercising that will help regain energy and build/repair muscle! The important elements to look for in a snack is protein and carbohydrates, along with fluids and electrolytes again, for all the same reasons we discussed above.
Kids Might Know More Than You Think!
After talking with Timmy and Sarah this week, I learned that kids are always watching, observing, and absorbing everything around them. Some can be very knowledgeable about healthy eating, but maybe have not been given the space or time to show you that. Take initiative to get them outside this summer, practice healthy eating, and help educate them on the importance of combining the two to install good habits for their future.