Why healthy dancer snacks are so important
Our dancers work REALLY hard – dancing for hours on end and making sure they have healthy and nutritious dancer snacks is super important. As a dance teacher and fellow crazy dance mum, I’ve seen just about every snack imaginable. I’m not going to pretend that I have always provided my own dancer with exemplary dancer snacks, I’ve been guilty of the fast-food drive-through but as a general rule, I try to be VERY conscious of what I pack or these days, provide to pack. Healthy and nutritious dancer snacks have such a huge impact on concentration and energy levels. Every crazy dance mum wants the very best for their dancer. They want them to come to class full of energy, ready to concentrate and apply themselves, learn and succeed…unfortunately despite the very best of intentions, the fuelling of dancers with nutritious snacks sometimes gets pushed down the to-do list. I totally get that there are times when you just can’t help it and have succumb to the nearest drive-through but for the bulk of the time, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Because our dancers are athletes, we need to be fuelling them as such. Emily Harrison MS, RD, LD of The Centre of Dance Nutrition suggests choosing snacks such as bananas, almonds, apples, cheese, or a hardboiled egg. What they don’t need is sugary snacks, high in fat and salt but low in protein and fibre. I often hear parents say, “oh don’t worry, they’ll burn it off”. First of all, dance is often anaerobic, and second of all, there are so many other issues related to energy levels, concentration, ability to learn. Sugary snacks might leave kids feeling energized for a while but after the crash, they can feel more sluggish later on. The last thing we want is a sluggish dancer, lacking in energy and having trouble concentrating. So can the sugary snacks and opt for protein-rich snacks that help stabilize blood sugar and keep you going longer. You wouldn’t let your child dance in shoes that didn’t fit and neither should you fuel them with food that isn’t nutritious.
Healthy dancer snacks aren’t sugary snacks
The WHO differentiates between free sugars both the refined sugars added to processed foods by manufacturers AND the natural sugars found in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit concentrates. Free sugars don’t include the sugars found in milk (lactose) or fresh fruit. The recommendation for the amount of free sugars per day by age is as follows.
- 3 tsp for all children aged 2–8
- 5 tsp for girls and 6 tsp for boys aged 9–13
- 6 tsp for girls and 7.5 tsp for boys aged 14–18
Now to put his in perspective.
A recent study of popular kids’ breakfast cereal in Australia showed that the average sugar content of all 20 kinds of cereal analyzed was 19.8g per 100g – that’s almost 20 percent sugar. This equates to about 5 teaspoons of sugar. What about yogurt? Natural or plain full-fat yogurt is about 4.7g/100g sugar, anything over 4.7g/100g is added sugar. Some popular yogurt brands, particularly those market to children can have up to 24g of sugar – that’s around 6 teaspoons. Pop tops can also have up to 6 teaspoons. Two sour straps can have up to 4 teaspoons. Instant noodles can have around 5 teaspoons. So while we often think of sugar as extra treats, in reality, it is hidden in all sorts of everyday food – just our bowl of cereal in the morning can be enough for our whole sugar intake for the day!
The Bento Box – a dancer’s best friend.
What has really helped me with organizing snacks for my dancer and myself is the bento box. There are all sorts around. This one is one of my favorites.
I may or may hot have a slight lunch box obsession but that is a whole other story. The great thing about the Bento style box is you can pack it full of lots of little snacky foods that your dancer can grab on the run. This is important as dancers often don’t have long to snack. Also, if you have something to pack that is perhaps not the most nutritious, you can pop a little of it in one of the smaller compartments. Not to mention that they are just fun and cute and make the whole drudgery of packing a lunchbox super fun!
To summarise, things that are NOT good dancer snacks (these are snacks I see all the time)
- a whole packet of rice crackers
- a bag of chips
- instant noodles
- Hot chips
- Sticky buns
- chocolate bars
- sweet biscuits
- Mcdonalds etc
- lollies, sweets, sour straps, etc.
Things that DO make good dancer snacks
- Meat – think cold chicken, meatballs, etc
- Eggs – hard-boiled
- Nuts (depending on studio policy)
- Fruit (not juice)
- yogurt – check the sugar content
- some protein balls/bars – check the sugar content.
It is also possible to buy some great protein-type bars but be really wary of the sugar content. Nut-based will often be best. As a general rule avoid muesli bars as they are usually choc-full of sugar and steer well clear of any sort of processed sticky fruit products such as roll-ups and the like.