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Healthy Lunch and Snack Ideas for Active Kids

Image via Naich on SXC

For many kids, summer means staying outdoors, playing hard at camp, and burning lots of calories in the pool. Parents need to be sure their kids have enough good food to fuel their bodies for these active days, and plenty of liquids to stay hydrated.  Here are some tips for packing lunch and snacks to keep campers and active kids filled with energy.

According to Jon Kaplan from the Baltimore Fitness Academy, “Our bodies are like a finely tuned machine. With a sports car, you use a cleaner, high-octane fuel because the engine will perform better. Our bodies perform better when we use cleaner fuel too. Clean foods like fruits and vegetable directly from the earth, or foods that are not processed, will help kids maintain their energy.” 

Image via Rhosyn on SXC

Faye Mitchell, a pediatric dietician in Montgomery County urges that what you pack should depend on the activity. She explains, "Kids who are active outdoors or are playing outside on hot days might lose their appetite, but kids who are swimming keep a lower body temperature and come out of the pool starving.”

This is important to think about when you look at what camp or after school activity your child is attending. If they will be doing lots of swimming, they are going to want a bigger lunch. If they will spend most of the day outside in the heat, you need to pack foods that are appealing when appetites are low.

Both experts agree that hot summer days require plenty of fluids, and the preferred liquid is good old-fashioned water.  Though on really hot, humid days it's ok to pack a sports drink to replace some of the sodium and potassium lost through sweat.

In addition to lots of fluids, the best meal combination for active kids is a protein, plus whole grain, plus a fruit or veggie…at least one of the foods should contain some small amount of fat.  

One of Kaplan’s favorite foods is nuts. Peanut butter, for example, goes into the blood stream slowly and so it provides kids with sustained energy.

Smart Carbs
Another food that is absorbed slowly is whole grains. Whole grain bread, cereal, and brown rice can help keep your child’s blood sugar and energy levels stable. Sweet cereals in the morning will tire them out quickly. Sugar causes blood sugar to rise and then fall, which means kids will feel tired and moody.

An apple a day not only keeps the doctor away, it can help keep your energy up! Fiber slows digestion, which means your body will feel a more consistent level of energy. Pack foods high in fiber like fresh fruits and vegetables, a bean salad, or whole grain bars.

Experts agree that water is the best way to stay hydrated. Some foods like watermelon and grapes have more water content and are very refreshing but should not be used as a replacement for extra water. For a treat, Kaplan suggests flavoring plain or seltzer water with lemon and freezing grapes for a chilly snack.

Try a 3:00pm mini meal
Studies have shown that a young person's appetite peaks from the hours of 3pm - 5pm. Most parents don't want kids to eat a huge snack and ruin their dinner appetite, yet this goes against a child’s natural hunger cycle.  Mitchell suggests parents "let that after school snack be a mini meal. Give them a healthy and substantial snack like a sandwich on whole grain bread, or even leftovers from the previous night.” Chances are they will still be hungry at dinner.