You’ve covered all the errands, thrown laundry in the washer and rushed off to get the kids to their afterschool activities. In a few hours, you’ll all be heading home to homework, showers and dinner…well… dinner hasn’t even been considered yet, but it’s a must. Though the drive-through beckons, in the end what you and your athletes need is a protein-packed meal to help heal tired muscles and prep everyone’s body for the rest of the busy week.
Getting Enough Muscle Power
Protein is the building block of cells, and young athletes need it more than the average kid. As tissues build and tear during normal athletic activity, protein supplies go to work creating new bonds and eventually new muscles. Children and young adults who practice any sport should get an adequate supply of protein, as the body does not store reserves. Furthermore, protein is hardly effective if a proper balance is not struck between carbohydrates, nutrients, and calories as well. Children must have a balanced diet to fuel properly their busy body machines. Nutrients from fruits and vegetables, preferably fresh ones, will help their overall health while protein does its work to repair their tired muscles.
Many parents have fallen into the quick-carb after game/meet snack trap. There’s a reason: Stores provide simple pre-packed carbohydrate based snacks on the go, like granola bars, cookies, chips and pretzels, and stashing those in your car or purse is fail-safe. Sadly, it’s just those snacks that rob your child of the perfect recovery meal after a big workout. Once and awhile, try bringing nuts, hard boiled eggs or even cubed cheese for the perfect post-workout build up. Protein consumed shortly after a workout will boost your child’s muscle repair and energy in the long run.
Whole Grain Goodness Is Part Of The Goal
Carbohydrates aren’t all-bad though, and shouldn’t be eliminated by any means. Healthy carbs, those that are plant based or whole grain, help fuel your children in other ways that compliment protein intake. The trick is not to fall victim to the easy energy fixes that come from sugary fruit snacks, juice boxes and granola bars packed with processed ingredients. Seek out balanced carbohydrates and mix them with protein, and plenty of fluids (water), whenever possible.
Protein Packed Snacks
Instead of opting for the quick fix, try these healthy snacks when time allows:
Hardboiled eggs -make a dozen on Sunday, store in the fridge and pull what you need through the week for after school snacks or post-practice hunger stopper.
Nuts and berries – Almonds and dried berries will give the perfect salty and sweet kick to an after workout snack and keep your kids fueled. You can also try cashews, peanuts, pecans and walnuts with any number of dried fruits. Apricots, raisins, cranberries and dried figs are all great options and provide iron to your child’s diet.
Nut butter and apple slices – fiber and protein are big players here. Keep a small container of nut butter and some sliced apple as your go to when time allows.
Instead of running into the pre-dinner crash, and homework meltdown, your young athlete will have the nutrients and protein needed to make it until dinner, and will also be working to repair tired muscles as you drive home.
Fighting Strong – All Night Long
Now, once you’re home and the car is unpacked, how do you continue to keep healthy at the forefront so that you and your child can have a successful week? Let’s start at the fridge. As a rule, snacks and drinks after school should consist of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like yogurt or cheese, and water or milk. Skip juice and soda on weekdays and nights, saving it only for special occasions or weekend outings if you must.
Keeping your freezer and the fridge packed with easy dinners will help as well. Consider buying at least a week’s worth of chicken breast, or chicken tenders and grilling all of them. Store in the freezer in portion sizes, enough for a meal, and use throughout the week for a quick chicken Caesar salad, chicken cut up into pasta and chicken tacos. Does your family love meatballs? Make twice the amount you usually would with lean ground beef, cook and then freeze on a sheet pan, transferring to a plastic zip lock after freezing. You can re-warm meatballs as needed on busy nights.
Additionally, try making “two-meal-meals” a routine. Below you’ll find a recipe for Big Batch Chicken Chili. It’s packed with protein, loaded with veggies and makes enough to freeze half, leaving the rest to simmer in the crockpot for you after a long day out. Serve it with brown rice, or even sliced whole wheat, and the kids will be powered up, and ready for the rest of the week. If you need the same fix in a few days, you can easily grab it from the freezer.
Big Batch Make Ahead Crockpot Chicken Chili (dinner, and a freezer meal)
Serves 4 – times two!
- 1.5 pounds boneless chicken breasts or tenderloins, skin removed
- *1-teaspoon salt, olive oil and black pepper to season
- 3 large yellow onions, finely chopped (to hide them from the kids)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1 green bell pepper finely diced
- 2 medium sized zucchini diced small
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt (don’t worry – it’s for two meals worth)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 4 12-oz cans diced tomatoes
- 6 cans white beans drained
Begin the prepping process by dicing onions, garlic, bell peppers and zucchini. Set aside.
Season chicken with salt and pepper and rub with olive oil. Grill at high heat for 6 minutes on each side, or until cooked through (if you do not have a grill, you can sauté chicken in heavy bottomed skillet). Remove from grill to a clean dish and let cool enough to dice.
While chicken is grilling, sauté onions with ¼ cup olive oil in large saucepan or skillet (the biggest one you have), until translucent. Add bell peppers, and zucchini and continue to sauté until softened. Add garlic, and then add cumin, oregano, tablespoon salt and ground pepper. Cook for 1 minute and then turn heat off.
Dice chicken into small cubes.
In a large crockpot empty half the sautéed vegetable mixture and add half the chicken. Now add three cans white beans and two cans diced tomatoes. Turn on medium-high heat and let simmer for three hours. Taste for salt.
Garnish with sour cream and diced green onion, or just as it is.
With remaining meal prep: In a large freezer-safe container, add remaining sautéed veggies, chicken, and remaining cans of beans and tomatoes. Clearly label and freeze. To serve, re-warm in crockpot on medium-high heat for 3 hours. Add water if it’s too thick. Taste for salt.