Energy In and Energy Out
The energy we get from food is measured in calories, and children's bodies need those calories to grow, play, and learn. What they eat and drink is called 'energy in', and what they burn as they grow and move is 'energy out'. If children take in less energy than they need, they lose weight and if they take in more energy than they need, they store fat. When 'energy in' equals 'energy out', children are in energy balance. This is the key to feeling good, maintaining a healthy weight, and performing better in play.
How much physical activity is recommended for children?
Canada's Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living recommends at least 90 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day for children and youth. This guideline translates to roughly 16,500 steps per day. Children who are running, jumping, and playing for at least 90 minutes and are eating according to Canada's Food Guide are on their way to achieving optimal health. Children who are less active can aim to achieve this goal by increasing time currently spent on physical activity, starting with 30 minutes more per day.
Children who are vigorously active for more than 90 minutes every day might need more food because they burn more calories in practice and play. Attending a soccer practice can be an intense or light workout, depending on a variety of factors. It is important to consider the amount of time a child actually spends being active and the intensity of their activity.
How much physical activity do children do?
Canada's Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth (2009) found that 87% of Canadian children and youth age 5-19 years are not active enough to meet Health Canada's physical activity guidelines. When daily physical activity is translated into number of steps, children and youth take an average of only 11,950 steps per day. Children and youth participating in sports take an additional 1,500 steps per day - still leaving them below the recommended 16,500 steps.
The Winning Choices for Healthy Eating
The best foods for sport snacks are those that will help active children maintain energy and hydration. Canada's Food Guide explains that we need to eat a variety of foods from all four food groups to receive all the nutrients we need. According to the Canada's Food Guide, children ages 4-13 years need:
- 5 to 6 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. Choose vegetables and fruit more often than juice to get more vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fibre. The richer the colour of the vegetable or fruit, the richer it is in nutrtients. Enjoy at least one dark green and one orange vegetable each day.
- 4 to 6 servings of grain products per day. Half of child's grain choices should be whole grains, which are full of nutrients and fibre. Look for the words 'whole grain' at the start of the ingredients list.
- 2 to 4 servings of milk and alternatives per day. Lower fat cheese, yogurt, milk, kefir, and vitamin D-fortified soy drinks all provide the nutrients children need to build strong bones.
- 1 to 2 servings of meat and alternatives per day. Cooked fish, shellfish, poultry, lean meat, eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, and nut butters are examples of protein-rich foods that help to build and repair our bodies.
In general, children need to eat three meals and sometimes two to three snacks per day to meet their nutritional needs.
For a healthy snack, look for foods that are:
Low in sodium: If choosing processed foods such as crackers, pretzels, cereal bars, muffins, or dips, look for products that have less than 200 mg of sodium per serving.
Low in saturated and trans fats: Everyone needs some fat but the type of fat and the total amount of fat consumed is important for health.
- Choose unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats come mainly from plant sources, such as non-hydrogenated oils (e.g. corn, sunflower, canola, olive, peanut, corn, flaxseed, soybean), olives, avocado, nuts, and seeds. Fatty fish (e.g. salmon) is also a source of unsaturated fat.
- Limit saturated fat. Saturated fats come mostly from animal sources such as butter, lard, fatty meats, and higher fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Deep fried foods, baked foods, and packages snack foods that contain palm, palm kernel and coconut oil are also sources of saturated fats.
- Avoid trans fat. Trans fats are found in foods made or prepared with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Most trans fats come from processing unsaturated vegetable oils into a solid or semi-solid. Use food labels to choose products that have 0 grams of trans fat.