Nutrition for Little Ballerinas
Feeding growing young women for success and good health
As a nutritionist and former professional dancer, I am acutely aware of how food choices affect growth, cognitive functioning, strength and body weight. But as a busy mom of two young ballerinas myself, I struggle just like everyone else to get healthy foods into my girls, especially before and after ballet class. As parents, we can’t be perfect, but we are the gatekeepers for what goes into our kids’ bodies and it is our job to give them what they need to be at their best.
Busy schedules are the number one barrier to healthy eating, not taste. Kids will eat what is a regular part of their environment, whether that is potato chips and soda or yogurt and granola. Food preferences and habits are established early in life. Let’s help our young women learn that fueling their bodies for an activity, especially dance, is worth the extra time it takes to make a quick sandwich or peel a carrot or chop an apple. We are sending the message that they are worth it. By giving them chopped sweet peppers, strawberries or a veggie burger instead of drive-thru junk, we are not only helping them dance better, we are preventing breast cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Here are my top 10 tips for feeding little ballerinas in real life for real parents who are on the go:
1) A nut-butter and honey sandwich with a banana is less expensive and takes less time than going though the fast food lane. It can be made the morning of class, and eaten on the way to ballet.
2) Consider buying veggies that are already small, cute and easy such as baby carrots, little sweet peppers, little cucumbers, grape tomatoes, sweet peas, broccoli or cauliflower. These pair well with dried fruit and nuts. For example, throw carrots and dried cranberries in a container and go.
3) Treats have their place, but not before ballet class. High sugar snacks will affect concentration and strength. This includes sugary juices and commercially prepared smoothies. Give them real fruit instead of the juice. They are more likely to eat it if the apple is chopped, the orange is peeled and the grapes are pre-washed. A 7 oz. juice box has as much sugar as 30 jellybeans!
4) Engage your kids in food choices and food prep. Empower girls to make smart choices during food shopping. During shopping, tell them to pick out three vegetables and three fruits for the week. At home, have them wash the fruit and veggies and teach them how to store them for quick grab and go snacks. Let the kids do the work of food prep. They can peel clementines and put them in a to-go container for later. Parents don’t have to do everything.
5) Put fruit and veggies at kid level, either in a bowl on the counter or in the refrigerator. Keep salty and sugary snacks out of reach on a high shelf or cabinet. Better yet, don’t keep junk food in the house. Save it for special occasions or going out.
6) Make a large batch of smoothie and freeze in little containers to grab on the way out. It can be taken out of the freezer four hours ahead of time so it is thawed when you pick up the kids for ballet. I use a ballerina thermos for our smoothie, which has soymilk, almond milk, peach, blueberry, strawberry, flax seed and walnut. (It has no added sugars.) Frozen fruits save time.
7) A cheese stick and whole grain crackers is way better than a bag of processed corn chips.
8) Check package labels for bars that have less than 15 grams of sugar. It’s best to buy those with ingredients that are recognizable as food and not a science experiment. Brands will vary by location, but I like Kind bars, Bobo’s Oat Bars, Lara bars, “Barre” bars and Raw Rev bars. Or make your own and freeze.
9) We all know about calcium and vitamin D for strong bones, but vitamin D is also important for the immune function. Try to get 10-15 minutes of sunlight each day and look for foods fortified with vitamin D. A low-fat cheese stick, smoothie with kale/spinach, almond milk, vanilla yogurt and fruit, a handful of almonds or leafy greens (kale chips) are all good options. Personally, I give my girls a DHA and vitamin D (400 IU) supplement.
10) Every kid needs at least two servings of fruit and three servings of veggies each day. My kids have at least one vegetable with every lunch and dinner and then we squeeze in another serving as a snack.