Kids, Sports And Health On-The-Go

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Jill Motew

Founder, Zemas Madhouse Foods

Self-taught nutritional cook


small adhd sign

ADHD, Food and My Family


November 2004.  My oldest son, Max, who was 10 years old and in 4th grade was showing signs of struggling in grade school.  Lack of focus, lack of interest and low self-esteem in the classroom were rearing their ugly heads.  Being that Max was the first of my five kids, being that my husband’s ADHD was still undiagnosed in his mid-thirties and being that Max was a boy, hockey goalie and all around athletic kid, how would we have ever known he had ADHD?  He was our guinea pig, the one whe’d make the most mistakes with, our first-born.  It was during his fall conference that year that his teacher at the time suggested that we have Max tested for ADHD.  She kept us calm, focused and talked us out of blaming ourselves for the rest of our lives.  At the end of our conference, knowing how talented and committed Max was at playing high level hockey at such a young age, she left us with these words of wisdom that I still think about daily with my other kids.  She told us to never take him out of a hockey rink.  I didn’t get it back then, I was far too young of a mother.  But, those words have helped me raise my kids to have self-worth, independence, routine and discipline.  Character traits they would have never gotten from school.

And so, our journey along the ADHD rollercoaster had begun.  After having my son being tested by a third party, confirming that he does have ADHD, my husband started thinking about his own struggles.  Then he went to get tested.  Two for two.  Did I mention my husband was also a hockey goalie? Four more kids waiting in the wings.  We decided to try a low dose of Concerta, which Max stayed on for the next four years.  That love-hate relationship had begun. Max would hold his focus in school much longer, however, his desire to eat and drink would diminish, thus affecting his mood throughout the day.  For those of you who have gone down this path with a child, you know the scene.  By three in the afternoon, there was a crash, emotionally and physically.  Our nutritional saving grace – fruit smoothies with protein powder.  Cold, liquid and quick.  By the time hockey practice rolled around after dinner, an energy charge, followed by a late night eating frenzy as soon as the meds wore off.  Another energy surge capped the night with little sleep.  Homework?  Not a chance.  His brain was fried long ago from holding it together from 8-3.  Mornings were no party.  Get the meds in atleast half an hour before school, get the food in before the meds took effect.  It was a game against the clock, everyday.

During the next four years I perfected my ADHD sense.   ADHD has a wide spectrum and not all kids or adults are alike, so what one child’s symptons are may very well be non-existent with another child.   What was working for Max would not work for Asher, or Simon.  Our third child, Zev, was born Apraxic, which is like dyslexia of speech, so he stuttered a little and had a hard time retrieving information from his brain.  What they all have in common is that their brains are wired to not function so easily.  Information is not passed smoothly, often getting stuck or taken down the wrong path.   What else they have in common is their athletic ability and a mom committed to fueling their brain.  This combination would be their ticket to re-building themselves in and out of the classroom.  Although I tried my best to feed them whole, organic foods during their early kid years, it was not so easy.  I quickly learned that just because something was labeled as organic didn’t mean it was healthy.  I tried to keep them on as anti-inflammatory based foods as possible, but way back when, healthy gluten free options were rare.

At fourteen, Max was scouted by East Coast prep schools during a Boston hockey tournament.  With high school just around the corner, and no 504 Plan in place(that’s another blogpost!), prep school seemed like an option we couldn’t refuse.  Small classrooms, low teacher-student ratio, scheduled study time, access to teachers all day and night and a hockey rink fifty feet away from your dorm was just too perfect to pass up.  The biggest negative for me?  The food he’d be eating.

Max took himself off his meds that year.  He wanted himself back and I couldn’t blame him.  While the other kids still had me to fuel them with clean food free of additives, preservatives, gmo’s and keeping on a gluten free based diet, prep school cafeteria food in the mountains of Maine would not be so.  Max has been around healthy and organic eating his whole life.  He knew the terms, he knew how to read a label and new what questions to ask.  But, he was still fourteen and leaving home with a lot of other things clogging his mind.  Even though I sent many gluten free care packages, he did not keep up as he should on his clean eating.  Being on the road for hockey, team pizza parties and unlabeled sauces, dressings and deli meats left Max in the dark about his meals.  I have raised my kids to eat a certain way, not for food allergies, but for focus, for endurance, for better sleeping patterns, for overall health and wellness.  Their first words as a baby may have been “mommy” and “daddy”, but “organic” was soon after!

The gastro problems started soon for him.  Daily pain enough to keep him from playing hockey at his peak, keep him up at night and take his focus away from his studies.  It confirmed his gluten intolerance to us both.  We went through the cafeteria meals and talked about what was safe and not safe for him.  Food was his fuel.  It was then that he made the 100% gluten free, healthy eating commitment for himself.  He became a role model for his younger siblings.  They all started to believe in this “hoax” of food as fuel that I have been creating in our home for the past decade and a half.

Max graduates this year from prep school, just committed to a Division III hockey program in New Hampshire and will be representing Team USA in the Israeli Olympics this summer.  Not bad for a kid who felt like a failure his entire three years spent in junior high.  Not bad for a kid who struggled between the worlds of ADHD on and off meds.  Not bad for a kid who is now a leader on his hockey team, a role model for working hard at his sport and for trying his best at school.  His siblings have followed in his footsteps:  Zev is successfully earning A/B grades in his final year of junior high, managing his weight gain for football by cooking his own grass-fed beef burgers, cooking organic eggs and drinking his green smoothies full of kale, spinach, almond milk and berries.  Asher, who has ADHD, doesn’t take meds and is also a hockey goalie, just brought home the State win and the Central States win this season and is in 6th grade.  Simon, who just turned 10 and is in 4th grade, also a hockey player, has ADHD, no meds and just brought home a 2nd place State win.  As hard as school may be for them, it’s important they find success in other areas of life. They view their daily diet as being instrumental in their success.

I get asked by people all the time how do I control what my kids eat OUTSIDE of our home.  I don’t.  They don’t have food allergies.  I want to teach them to pay attention to how they feel after they eat certain foods.  All I can do is be their guide on the journey to overall health and wellness.