Welcome to August, where the final days of summer meld into the mad dash of back-to-school days. This is always a tough transition for both parents and kids in many ways, such as regular sleep patterns, meals and activity schedules. While carpools, school supplies and registration forms are at the forefront of most parents minds, getting back to basic health and wellness as a family should be right there too. During the summer months, parents tend not to cook as much, kids are at camp all day, some overnight for weeks at a time, and reuniting the family and reconnecting with wholesome food is a great way to start out the new school year. With five active teens of my own to micromanage, I have found a way to successfully and easily create healthy meals, snacks and on-the-go items that many families can conquer as well.
I am going to focus on what I know best and that is managing my active teens ADHD, travel sporting activities(hockey and football to be exact) and home base in regards to nutrition. I have created a simple health and wellness survival guide to help ease the path.
Home Base. Think of your pantry as your tool box. When something needs to be fixed in the home and you don’t have the right tools, you can’t fix it. Your pantry should be stocked with nutritional “junk food” and your freezer with ready to thaw proteins to add to quick meals. Nutritional “junk food” can be store bought or homemade dried fruit and roasted nut mix(even some dark chocolate chips thrown in would be fine), ancient wholegrain, gluten-free crackers made with quinoa, teff, amaranth and chia seeds are easy to top with nitrate free deli meats and hummus or baba ganouj. Granola bars come in handy and non-gmo, healthy options are popping up in every market. Some of my go to bars include Macrobars, Kind Bars and Chia Bars. With all the different flavors, you’re bound to find a match for each kid.
My freezer is stocked with bulk(out of the casing) spicy chicken sausage that I can defrost and roll into mini-meatballs in a pinch. Sautéing them for a few minutes per side in olive oil and then simmering them in our favorite pasta sauce for 15 minutes is a great meal served over brown rice pasta or our favorite, mung bean pasta. Quick and easy and everyone loves it. Make extra for after school snacks the following day! The common denominators here: healthy fats and proteins. Both sources will help re-fuel your child’s brain and store energy for the hours of activities and homework to come.
Sports and activities. Locker rooms, parent meetings, team dinners and birthday celebrations can all be difficult situations for maintaining your child’s overall health and wellness when involved in team sports. My approach to maintaining positive behaviors with my kids that have ADHD and play team sports is probably more holistic than most, however, getting the team onboard to respect our family’s way doesn’t have to be difficult or embarrassing. With over twenty-seven consecutive hockey seasons under my belt, I have figured out how to ease these worries for myself without ostracizing my child.
- Talk to your child. Yes, my kids have ADHD and are athletes. I talk to them regularly about taking their health into their own hands. How to make better snack choices when I am not with them, how to say “no thank you” to junk food when it’s offered to them by another parent or teammate and how to pack along healthy bars for emergency snacks on long drives. It takes some practice, but eventually they get it. Look at the bigger picture here by creating long term healthy habits. I have my kids read articles on ADHD, the brain and food dyes and what professional athletes eat to stay in shape and in focus. Kids like to mimic professionals so take advantage.
- Talk to your team manager or coach. A good team manager and coach have open minds and want to know more about your child. What makes them perform their best? What makes them lose focus? I have always been upfront about my children’s ADHD and how we eat as a family. Eight out of ten times the discussion becomes about how they can incorporate that nutritional food plan into the team. Team dinners start to have more options(salads, gluten-free choices, leaner protein and fruit for dessert). Sodas becomes things of the past as water takes its place. Celebrating birthdays with the team means no more brightly covered cupcakes riddled with food dyes and saturated fats. Gatorade drinks take a back seat to cleaner electrolyte options.
- Hotel stays and tournaments. With my crew of travel hockey players and a football player, my husband and I stay in lots of hotels. I always have a large bag of goodies packed for the room. Knowing we won’t be near a grocery store most of the time, I make sure organic apples, bananas, oranges and baby carrots make the cut. A bag of fruit-juice sweetened, vegan gummy bears is a must for a sweet tooth and pistachios are always fun to crack open and eat. Brown rice cakes with squeezable organic peanut butter are a favorite, as are squeezable unsweetened applesauces. Coconut waters, regular waters and fruit and veggie juices are a must. With some extra planning time, anyone can make their hotel stay a little bit healthier.
ADHD and the car. There’s nothing like whisking your child into the car after a long day of school just to sit in traffic for an hour or longer on the way to practice. Homework is looming, his brain is fried from school and he still has six hours left to focus. This is a typical after school scenario for me and my kids. I’m not one to stop for fast food so I pack up a bag of food options and drinks to keep my child’s blood sugar level even, his brain fueled and his taste buds happy. While some kids are able to do homework in a moving vehicle, mine are not, plus I want them to have that down time between school and activities. A little nap can’t hurt either! Packing my computer with a movie or their ipod with music and some healthy snacks are perfect for my crew. Lots of cut-up fruit(apples, grapes, melon and bananas), veggie sticks with hummus cups, coconut water for hydration and ancient wholegrain crackers or home baked Zemas gluten-free treats add those complex carbohydrates they will need for stored energy sources.
As the fall sporting season fast approaches, I hope you find these tips helpful in making it one filled with successes, health and overall wellness.
Founder, Zemas Madhouse Foods
Self-taught nutritional cook