I can’t unsee what I’ve seen on school field trips.  Sack lunches in cafeterias make me want to scream and pull my hair out.  It pains me
internally to watch these children eat the types of food packed in a brown bag.  But parents don’t know better because we were never taught properly.  We as parents, coaches, and a country have to do better for our kids as predicted life expectancies of future generations keep getting younger and younger.

I wear many hats: parent, former Division I college coach, former college athlete, sports-nutritionist, friend to adults with kids, entrepreneur, and the list continues.  There are many perspectives I could write this article from but picking one is challenging, so you’re going to hear my perspective from all angles with a LOT of my direct and shocking experiences consulting with athletes of all ages.

Parents weren't handed a nutrition manual when leaving the hospital with a baby. We are expected to trust the marketing and buy what's on the shelves because what else do we have?

The biggest deficit in consulting with young athletes on nutrition is not the lack of food intake, protein intake issues (although this is a problem), or too much sugar, the problem is actually lack of knowledge
about our food not only by the kids, but also the parents.  Why?  Because we aren’t taught about nutrition in school until at earliest, age ten.

If I can recall way back when I was in elementary school, long live the late 80’s and 90’s, there was not a single day we were taught about food, vitamins, and minerals.  My own kids are currently in elementary school and nutrition is a topic yet to be discussed in any classroom to my knowledge.  The first information on this topic I can recall receiving was in sixth grade health class when the teacher was talking about a Snickers bar and an apple.  She mentioned that both fill you up, but one provides way better benefits to the body because of the nutrient content.  The lightbulb in my brain finally went on.  I never got that concept before, and I still remember that moment to this day.

The California Health Education states that the most opportune time for kids to learn about nutrition is between kindergarten and third grade.  I absolutely agree with this statement being a parent currently living in these grade ranges.  By third grade, most foundational nutrition habits are set, and the kids will continue to eat what they have always eaten.  After the upper end of the range, your implementation 
of healthier choices will be much more difficult, but not impossible.

The most opportune time to teach kids about nutrition is kindergarten to third grade yet this type of education is absent from our school curriculums.

“But I don’t like that kind of bread.”  Common statement I hear from parents experimenting with healthier choices.  “Their friends drink it, so my kids want to drink it.”  My response: “Can your second grader drive their car to the grocery store and buy the PRIME Hydration drink that their friends drink or will they drink what you give them?”  Young kids are the ones that need the most guidance and support on nutrition. Putting in the hard work as a parent in the early years will pay dividends later in their lives.

By age 10 we’ve lost them and I wish you luck in making nutritional changes.

As a parent myself, I can relate to the one million and three things that need to be processed in the brain daily.  I constantly have approximately 35 open tabs (think web browser open tabs of things to do) in my brain, but I have chosen to make food and food education a priority (far tab to the left) in our family.  Our kids know about specific ingredients, they know why items like PRIME Hydration are not in our household, and they are informed enough to tell others about why they need to take vitamins – because as great as we try to eat 90% of the time, we don’t eat beef liver, clams, and oysters every week for our vitamin B12 needs.  My kids will often ask, “mom, what’s healthier __________ or __________?”  It becomes a game typically on drives to practice and a very difficult game when the choices are Takis or Doritos.  But these are conversations you can have with your kids, or if you’re a coach – with your athletes.

Is this common place in the American home?  My answer is a hard NO.  In America, we trust without a second thought every product on the shelf is safe and healthy for our kids to eat.  “Well why would they sell it if it isn’t good for you?”  Classic question from a baby 
boomer relative of mine.  “It says all-natural on the box.”  Another favorite.  And this gem, “what’s wrong with vegetable oil, isn’t it made from vegetables?”  These questions prove that as a country, we are so uneducated about what goes into our bodies.  A recent outing proved my point that we are blinded by the food industry’s marketing in the food choices we make for our kids.

As parents, we're marketed to that any food on the shelves is good for our bodies. Unfortunately, we're being fooled by pretty boxes and vague statements.

Recently, I chaperoned a field trip with my youngest’s first grade classroom.  Every kid had to bring
a lunch from home to eat on the trip.  Seeing the display of Lunchables, Takis, and GoGurts in an overwhelming majority of the lunches made me want to scream.  As I sat next to another parent chaperone, I was inclined to tap him on the shoulder and shout “do you see this catastrophic display of food in these kids’ lunches??”  But as he took out his own lunch, I saw a Lunchable and Diet Coke finished off with fruit snacks.  Quickly I realized my frustrations would fall on unknowledgeable ears.  I also realized quickly that kids bringing junk food disguised as lunch is not so much about their lack of nutrition knowledge but speaks to the parents’ lack of nutrition knowledge because parents didn’t get nutrition education in school either.

Since schools are not going to teach kids about nutrition, then sports teams have an opportunity to take over the education piece.  

From experience, most athletes will listen to their coach’s advice.  Most kids play some type of sport at a young age and can gain little bites of info that just might stick later in life, just like my Snickers and apple scenario in sixth grade.  I believe every age group should be receiving consistent and relevant (the key) nutrition information for parents and athletes. 

Athletes of all ages from the littles to the bigs need nutrition education to establish healthy relationships with food as fuel.

So how should kids be taught?  Here’s my ideal outline on how to start implementing this into your own household or team.

Young kids (4-9) should receive information on the importance of drinking and eating for fuel.  This group shouldn’t’ be scared to eat because they will “get fat.”  True statement I’ve heard from a nine-year old.  Bodies are growing and need fuel not only to be healthy but to be strong and fast.  Focus on the right
foods make you “super-fast and healthy.”  The littles should also start being able to determine the difference between a nutritious snack and a treat.  If you also want to see a catastrophic display of food, go to an age-group swim meet and watch what kids are eating on deck.  Watch what parents bring for a
treat after the meet. 

And if you dare visit the concession stand or peek your head into coaches hospitality, I’ll wait to hear your screams of frustration.

The next age groups (10-14) should be able to know what carbs, protein, and fats are for in the body.  What types of foods fill those macros and how to make sure they get those in each meal.  They should be taught to start listening to their bodies in relation to food and how they feel after eating specific foods.  Fueling for racing and even starting to dive into the supplement conversation is needed at this age. 

Guaranteed they will see teammates and competitors dry scooping pre-workout into their mouths before races.  Yes, 11 year-olds do this and your athletes are seeing it wondering why they aren’t doing it too.

The oldest group of athletes, typically teenagers (14-18), on a team should be highly aware of their own needs of vitamins, supplements, and food.  They should know how to build their plates and prepare snacks appropriately.  What types of food are appropriate at specific times of day is extremely relevant information in a demanding schedule and should be taught.  Timing on when to be very dialed into nutrition and when it’s ok to dial out a bit is a key concept for this age.  Bringing a healthy mindset to food as fuel is a huge necessity in this group.  So many young athletes are under-fueling and have poor relationships with food.

These nutrition conversations can be done by a local professional, a parent in the medical profession with knowledge, or via Zoom with a professional.  This isn’t earth-shattering information; it’s starting the nutrition conversation and making athlete households aware of how food helps fuel the body.


Find a local professional, a parent in the medical profession with knowledge, or an expert that does virtual sessions to help your athletes gain the knowledge they lack.

If this perfect utopia was real, by the time the athletes get to college, continuous refinement for specific goals can be easily achieved.  But in today’s world, knowledge is sparse even in high-level college athletes.  Thus, we are left with teenagers bordering on young-adulthood that know nothing about food, fending for themselves in an all-you-can-eat dining hall or cooking for themselves.  Spoiler alert, it doesn’t end up well.

You may or may not be shocked that as a college coach, I often received questions from swimmers like “what should I be eating after practice”, “how much water should I drink?”, “should I eat more than 2000 calories a day?”, “is eating fat going to make me fat?”, and my all-time favorite, “I heard there’s a supplement at CVS that makes you skinny, should I try that to lose weight?”  In my opinion, this is all knowledge that athletes should receive way before college so that by the time they get to campus, it’s more about refining nutrition than starting with the basics and steering them away from CVS weight-loss supplements.   

College athletes show up on campus with little to no knowledge about food fending for themselves in all-you-can-eat dining halls or shopping and cooking for themselves.

In our practice, I get the privilege to do exactly the utopia I talked about.  I get to educate all ages of kids with teams that see the demand and need for their athletes and parents to be educated on what goes into their bodies.  I run online virtual and in person workshops with teams helping them understand why food is fuel and displaying the products parents can click and ship that will fit the needs best for the young athlete’s body. 

Putting the parent hat back on, we are all trying our best and NONE of us are perfect.  I know that 
for a fact.  If you can do anything,

I encourage you to have nutrition conversations with your kids of all ages.  You just never know when that conversation clicks and the lightbulb turns on.

As a parent, you never know when your conversations about nutrition will finally click. Start the conversations early and keep them going!

Coaching hat on now, if you’re not implementing nutrition education into your team, you’re doing a disservice to your team’s mental health, development, and performance.  Consistent education makes your life easier in the long run.  Find a professional that provides a service that works in your budget.  As mentioned before, if you’re working on a small budget, look for a parent or local college nutrition student that would probably do it for free or at a minimal cost.

Maximize your team's performance, health, mental health, and energy demands by providing relevant and consistent information for your athletes.

If you’d like to know more about how I can help your athlete and/or team, schedule a free call with us to discuss further at this link:



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