During physical activities like sports and outdoor play, young children use more energy per pound of body weight than teens or adults. Keeping healthful snacks on hand and regularly including high-energy, nutritious foods with meals can mean the difference between an energetic player and a worn-out couch potato.
A – Avocados are not only rich in vitamins E (for a healthy heart) and B6 (for healthy lungs) but also high in fiber. They're also easy to prepare: Whip up some guacamole, slice them and roll them in a tortilla or add chunks to a salad.
B – Bananas are potassium powerhouses, deliciously satisfying and come in their own packaging, making them the perfect choice for school lunches or after-game snacks. They are high in complex carbohydrates for energy, and the potassium helps to regulate the body's water balance.
C – Carob powder is a low-fat and tasty alternative to using chocolate in baked goods. Because it's naturally sweet it makes a nice addition to smoothies. Carob is a good source of calcium and potassium.
D – Dried fruits are high in iron. Toss a handful of nuts, raisins and dried cereal together for a quick homemade trail mix. Keep dried cranberries on hand to add to quick breads, and dried mangoes and apricots for eating on the go.
E – Electrolyte drinks (not to be confused with caffeinated energy drinks such as Red Bull) can be beneficial on hot summer days when kids are sweating it out under the sun. They can safely be used occasionally but should not substitute for water.
F – Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are the richest plant sources of omega-3 fats (essential fatty acids) for proper nerve cell functioning. This is especially good to know if you don't eat fish regularly. Sprinkle ground seeds on oatmeal and add a teaspoon of oil to smoothies.
G – Greens – like kale, spinach, collards and broccoli rabe -- should feature on your table several times a week to provide kids with beta-carotene, vitamin C and calcium as well as fiber. The folate (folic acid) in greens will also help prevent a certain type of anemia.
H – Hummus, a dip traditionally made from chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and tahini, is quick and easy to prepare. Serve with carrot sticks or pita bread and use leftovers as a sandwich spread. Chickpeas are high in protein and B vitamins, while tahini, a sesame seed paste, is high in calcium.
I – Ice pops can't be beat in the summer! Kids love these freezer treats, and when you make them at home out of fresh fruit, juice and yogurt, they're double good. Store-bought pops often contain added sugar and artificial colorings.
J – Jerky made from soy instead of meat is a cholesterol-free, high-protein snack that's easy to throw in a backpack. Nitrates, used in the curing of meats for jerky, break down into cancer-causing nitrosamines, so choose your jerky carefully!
K – Kiwi fruit is a virtual powerhouse of nutrition with 10 times the vitamin C found in an equal weight of lemons, plus copper (for bone strength) and magnesium (for bone formation).
L – Lentils are much quicker to prepare than beans and very versatile. Full of fiber and nutrients, they come in several varieties, each with a different flavor, texture and color. Lentils have the second highest protein content of all vegetable foods after soybeans.
M – Melons are mostly water, which makes them perfect for hot summer days. Eat melons with iron-rich foods because they are high in vitamin C, and when eaten together, iron absorption improves.
N – Nuts are a fabulous source of monounsaturated fats, and they're high in protein and an excellent source of calcium, not to mention the perfect convenience food. Nuts also supply some hard-to-get minerals -- magnesium, copper and zinc -- and they're rich in potassium, fiber and folic acid. Eat them raw instead of roasted and salted, or try nut butters for a new twist on peanut butter and jelly.
O – Oatmeal is the sort of stick-to-your-ribs food that kids need before heading off to school or out to play. It's low in fat, high in fiber and so simple to prepare that they can do it themselves. Avoid the high-sugar brands and stick with plain old oats you can flavor yourself with pure maple syrup and cinnamon.
P – Potatoes are a staple food around the world, and why not? They deliver an energizing dose of complex carbohydrates, protein, potassium, vitamins B6 and C, copper and manganese.
Q – Quinoa(KEEN-wah), a principal grain crop in South America, is just gaining popularity in the United States. It cooks and fluffs up much the same as rice, but did you know that it provides an unusual supply of protein, calcium and iron compared to other grains?
R – Refried beans aren't really fried twice. Choose the low-salt, lard-free variety in a can and whip up Mexican food kids can't resist at a moment's notice! Often made from pinto beans, frijoles refritos, as they're known across the border, offer a healthy dose of protein and fiber.
S – Sweet potatoes weigh in as one of the most nutritious vegetables of all with substantial amounts of vitamins C and B6. Bake them in strips, cube them in soups or mash them up for your daily dose of carotenoids (plant-based antioxidants).
T – Tomatoes provide the body with lycopene, a carotenoid or plant-based antioxidant that may protect against cancer and heart disease. While ketchup might not qualify as a high-energy health food, it is a source of lycopene so let your kids slather it on!
U – Udon are Japanese noodles made from wheat flour. Unlike some types of whole-wheat pasta, however, they are not hard. Softer than spaghetti, you can add them to your favorite soup, or serve them as a base for stir-fries instead of rice.
V – Vegemite, originally found in Australia but available now across the United States, is a salty yeast spread traditionally served very thinly spread on bread with butter. Skip the butter, choose a non-hydrogenated margarine instead, and get a good dose of B vitamins for physical and mental energy.
W – Whole-wheat bread is made from wheat flour before it's been stripped of its nutrients to obtain the light color and texture of white flour. Don't let the label fool you -- some "wheat bread" isn't really whole if it's made with enriched flour. Molasses is often added to give it the brown color associated with healthier whole-wheat bread.
X – Extra water is what active kids need to stay hydrated all year long, but especially during the summer months. Get each child a colorful sports bottle of her own and refill it each morning after a thorough washing.
Y – Yogurt is much more digestible than milk for those with lactose intolerance. Now available in dairy or soy and in an assortment of flavors, yogurt makes the perfect calcium-rich treat for strong bones.
Z – Zucchini is a highly versatile vegetable with lots of kid appeal. It also offers a good dose of potassium, which may play a role in regulating heartbeat and preventing kidney stones. Bake it into bread, add it to casseroles or slice it on a pizza!