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Jill Castle: Best Snack For Child's School Back Pack Is The One That They Will Eat!

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MomsTEAM has designated October as Sports Nutrition Month, and invited some old friends and some new ones to share their wisdom about nutrition by responding to a series of questions. We hope their answers will offer the always on-the-go sports parents we know you are some fresh ideas and choices for healthy, easy-to-make breakfasts, lunches, dinners and between-meal snacks for your active children.

Today we hear from child nutrition expert, blogger, speaker and author, Jill Castle:

Pediatric nutritionist Jill Castle

MomsTEAM: Tell us a little about yourself and why you wanted to get into sports nutrition?

Castle: I have worked in the field of pediatric nutrition for over 20 years, and I have four of my own children, all of whom are involved in sports (volleyball, swimming and soccer).  I know from working with families and from my own children that there is a lot of misinformation circulating about sports nutrition for kids, and nutrition mistakes are being made. I enjoy helping young athletes eat better, improve their performance, and feel great in the process, and know that their parents do their best job at feeding. And I love helping families and coaches understand the differences between the youth athlete and the adult athlete.

MomsTEAM: What do recommend sports-active kids eat for breakfast?

Castle: Sports-active kids need a wholesome, nutrient-rich, sustaining breakfast to begin their day. Countless studies show the impact breakfast has on boosting metabolism, improving attention and focus, and aiding with healthy weight management. For the young athlete, a carbohydrate-containing breakfast loads the muscles with an energy source (glycogen) and fuels the brain. I encourage young athletes to follow a simple formula for choosing breakfast items: Choose a carbohydrate source (whole grains, dairy or non-dairy item, or fruit) plus a protein source (dairy/non-dairy, lean meat/bean/nut or nut butter) as the minimum inclusions.  Focusing on these two nutrients ensures muscles are nourished and hunger is covered.

Some great breakfast examples are:

  • oatmeal made with skim milk topped with banana and walnuts; 
  • peanut butter toast and OJ; or
  • low fat yogurt, fruit and granola.

MomsTEAM: What are your top five foods for sports nutrition?

Castle: The following foods/categories are in my top five because of their nutrient rich properties (lots of nutrition packed in) and their portability and wholesomeness. 

  • Low fat dairy/non-dairy products such as milk, soy milk, yogurt, cheese
  • Bananas, oranges or other potassium-rich fruits
  • Nuts or nut butters (peanut, cashew, almond, etc)Ripe yellow bananas
  • Whole grain cereal, crackers and pretzels
  • Dried fruit

You'll see that everything is FOOD, as young athletes can get everything they need with good food planning!

MomsTEAM: Do you think youth and high school athletes need supplements? If yes, which ones?

Castle: I do not think high school athletes need supplements. Everything they need can be found in food, it just requires some forethought and planning. In fact, research in the area of youth sports and supplements, such as amino acids and creatine, is limited; the American Academy of Pediatrics advises no ergogenic (muscle-building, performance-enhancing) supplements for youth athletes due to their unknown side effects.

For young athletes who have a documented iron deficiency or a limited vitamin D or calcium intake (due to food allergy or other), micronutrient supplements may be indicated, but this should be reviewed with a health care provider first.

MomsTEAM: What is the best snack to pack in a sports-active kid’s school backpack or gym bag?  

Castle: The best snack to pack is one that will get eaten! So, it's important to know your child's preferences to better the chances of consumption. I like snacks that are temperature stable (won't spoil), such as a peanut butter (or other nut butter) and jelly/honey on whole wheat/whole grain bread with a box of milk, or a baggie of dry whole grain cereal, dried fruit and nuts.

MomsTEAM: What is a quick and easy dinner to make for a family meal after an afternoon practice or game?

Castle: Here are a couple of dinner menu ideas:

  • Stir fry previously frozen shrimp and pre-cut veggies from the grocery store in olive oil, garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Serve over rice or pasta.
  • Fire up the crock pot in the morning with a bean and beef chili-it will be ready and waiting later on.
  • Pasta is always fast.  Just remember to add a protein source such as lean meat (chicken), beans (cannelloni), or cheese (mozzarella).

MomsTEAM: What is the most important thing about nutrition that every sports parent should know?

Castle: That the nutrition rules for adults don't necessarily apply to kids. In fact, much of what we know about kids and sports nutrition is adapted from adult studies. Because kids and teens are still growing, their nutritional needs are influenced by growth and sport, something that needs careful attention.

MomsTEAM: How have you helped a young athlete?

Castle: I helped an elite tennis player start growing again! I had a client who was an adolescent tennis player. He came to see me after his pediatrician and coach were concerned about his fatigue and lack of growth. He hadn't gained weight or grown in height in over 2 years, at a time when a growth spurt should have been occurring. His diet was miserable: full of convenient, processed foods, and unhelpful eating patterns (no breakfast, light lunch, late night eating). I helped him revamp the structure and content of his diet, and had him start taking a vitamin D supplement (he was deficient). I also helped him adjust his training diet to cover him for competition. Of course, I educated him along the way, so he would understand proper fueling and be able to keep up with productive eating habits. He used a smartphone app to keep track of his eating and managed to begin gaining weight, feeling more energetic and sleeping better. His bones were still growing (he had a scan to determine bone age), so we were optimistic that his height would start to increase, too, with his new (and adequate) nutrition plan.


Jill Castle has over 20 years' experience as a child nutrition and feeding expert and shares her expertise through writing, speaking, and consulting. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book, Fearless Feeding: How To Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (Jossey-Bass/Wiley), a comprehensive nutrition and feeding resource for parents and professionals slated for publication in 2013.  She is currently working on The Child Athlete chapter for the Sports Nutrition Care Manual of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can read more about child nutrition on her blog, Just The Right Byte (www.justtherightbyte.com), and more about sports nutrition at www.USASwimming.org, where she writes every month. Jill is the former owner of Pediatric Nutrition of Green Hills, a pediatric nutrition private practice located in Nashville, Tennessee, and currently lives in New Canaan, Connecticut with her husband and four children. Follow her on Twitter @pediRD, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/justtherightbyte, or www.facebook.com/fearlessfeeding), or visit her website (www.jillcastle.com).