8 Weeknight Tips for Feeding Kids in Sports

By Kris Ann Valdez

Weeknight sports schedules always present a challenge when it comes to nourishing our young athletes. Do we feed them dinner early at 4 p.m., or wait until practice ends, sometimes as late as 8:30 or so? If we wait to feed them dinner, what kind of snack should we provide before training?

Megan McNamee, MPH, RDN, of Feeding Littles is a dietician and Intuitive Eating Counselor whose daughters have been in sports since kindergarten.

“Whenever I post a photo of my eldest eating dinner at 8 p.m., I get a lot of questions about how to handle schedules.”

In Megan’s family, some tournaments are played in six-hour blocks, leaving little time for eating. And tournaments can go on for days too. Finding the time to eat and making sure to eat enough are always a challenge.

The truth is—there’s no easy answer.

It’s hard, and not even the professionals have it all figured out. But Megan shares with us eight tips that have been impactful for her own family:

1). Offer them food up to an hour before their practice or a game. Even if lunch was a few hours prior, they will likely need a snack if doing rigorous activity.

2). Carbohydrates will offer fast energy, but protein and fat will have staying power. Both are important, especially before longer practices and games.

Examples include nut butter sandwiches, cheese and whole grain crackers with fruit, smoothie (fruit and yogurt), energy bar, granola bar and jerky, bagel and cream cheese.

3). If your child is starving after weeknight practice, consider serving dinner before they head out and offer a snack when they get home (instead of having them wait for dinner).

4). Bring a snack to tide them over immediately after they’re done.

5). Rely on crockpot meals, freezer dinners, leftovers or takeout for the nights when time is especially tight.

6). Even if your child eats dinner after you, try to sit with them as they eat and get a recap of their practice/day. Connection is just as important as eating, and as kids get busier with activities they might have less time for family meals.

7). Hydration is especially important for athletes. Make sure your child has water accessible to them all day.

8). Know that this is a learning experience for every family, and each child will be a little unique. Some kids hate food on their stomach before a game. Others completely melt down after every practice because they didn’t eat enough. It takes time to figure out what works for your child, and in the process they learn more about how to fuel their bodies for sports, which is a lifelong skill.

Hopefully these tips help you balance the demands of athletic schedules. For more great advice on food and wellness, check out Feeding Littles.