By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Preschool age children gain about 4.5 pounds and grow 2.75 inches per year. Because infancy is when a child grows the fastest, many children are actually less hungry during their toddler and pre-school aged years than when they are infants. This tends to worry parents, but it shouldn’t because young children know when they are hungry and they usually stop eating when they are full. Unfortunately, because parents get worried that their child isn’t eating enough and they don’t want to argue at mealtime, they tend to let toddlers choose whatever they want to eat for meals. The result is a diet that consists of pizza, chicken nuggets and mac & cheese, and is usually pretty low in the nutrients that your growing toddlers needs. We rounded up 10 of the worst foods you can feed your toddler and healthier alternatives.

Chicken Nuggets.

While chicken is definitely a great lean protein source, it’s not as healthy when it’s covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

Try this instead: Many toddlers don’t like boring old grilled chicken, so try a rotisserie chicken. It’s juicy, flavorful and easy to eat with your hands.

French fries.

Just like chicken nuggets, French Fries contain healthy ingredients (potatoes are a vegetable after all), but they are deep fried and covered in salt. A batch of French fries definitely has more calories than a preschooler should probably eat in an entire day.

Try this instead: Roasted sweet potato cubes. Chop sweet potatoes into tiny cubes, mix with a tiny bit of oil and salt and roast in the oven until the begin to brown. They are a fun finger food that is loaded with Vitamin A, a nutrient that is important for young developing eyes.

Hot Dogs.

I think we all know hot dogs are not good for anyone—I can’t even tell you what part of the pig they come from. And they are made with tons of fillers and sodium.

Try this instead: Chicken or veggie hot dogs still contain some fillers, but are a healthier alternative to pork. No matter what type of hot dog you are serving your child, it should be a rare treat.

Sugar sweetened juice.

Unfortunately, not all juices are created equal. Some, like Capri Sun and Sunny Delight, are loaded with added sugar. Even some fruit juices contain extra sugars and unnatural colors and flavors. It’s best to avoid extra sugar at this age, especially when teeth are starting to come in and children are prone to cavities.

Try this instead: Obviously water or milk are the best beverage options for your toddler. If you like to serve juice occassionally, opt for 100% fruit juices that are made from just the fruit.


I love pizza as much as the next Italian American, but it’s devoid of the vitamins and minerals that you toddler needs to grow. If pizza is on your toddler’s menu more than once a week, they may be missing out on vital nutrients, like protein.

Try this instead: Make your own tortilla pizza. Layer a whole wheat tortilla with marinara sauce and a sprinkle of cheese. Throw it in the oven for 10 minutes, and voila. The whole wheat tortilla adds some fiber and protein to your child’s meal.

Sugary cereal.

One of the unhealthiest foods marketed directly at children is cereal—Fruit Pebbles anyone? Research has shown that a healthy breakfast with protein, vitamins and minerals helps kids perform better in school. Unfortunately, sugary cereals have none of these things.

Try this instead: If your toddler really loves cereal, try Cheerios or Kix. Both have basically no added sugar and still taste great in milk.

‘Veggie’ chips.

When it comes down to it, ‘veggie’ straws and ‘veggie’ chips are really no different than potato chips. They are highly processed and contain minimal amounts of vegetables. In other words, they are empty calories and sodium for your toddler.

Try this instead: If your toddler likes something crunchy, makes roasted crispy chickpeas. Not only are they simple to make, but they are made with protein and fiber packed chickpeas and not deep fried. To make, try this recipe:

Makes 2 snack servings


1 15-oz can of chickpeas

½ tablespoon of Canola or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon black pepper


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse and drain chickpeas. Lay on a paper towel and pat dry. Once dry, combine the chickpeas, oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl and stir. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Spread chickpeas evenly on baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until crispy. Cooking times may vary based on ovens.

Ketchup (on everything).

Kids get very accustomed to putting ketchup on everything, like hot dogs, fries and chicken fingers. But ketchup is not only loaded with sugar, it’s got a ton of nasty ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup.

Try this instead: Make your own honey mustard dip. Whisk together ½ cup vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of honey. It’s sweet and has less fake stuff than bottled ketchup.

Boxed mac n cheese.

Cheese should not come in a powder form. Not only does it not taste good, it’s not natural.

Try this instead: Make your own mac and cheese with a whole wheat pasta and shredded cheddar whisked together with milk.

A-Game Sports’ nutritionist can speak with your child and work with you to setup a unique individual nutrition plan to reach all of your health goals. Set up a nutrition consultation today.

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and food and nutrition writer, specializing in sports nutrition and adolescent nutrition education. Natalie has worked with many prestigious organizations, such as Hospital for Special Surgery, the American Dairy Association & Dairy Council, NY Yankees Baseball Camps and NYC Charter Schools.  She has also written for many food and nutrition publications, such as Women’s Running, Spright, Toby Amidor Nutrition, The Active Times, SuperKids Nutrition and Food & Nutrition Magazine, and she has been quoted in Women’s Health Magazine and Men’s Health.

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD  |  @NutritionalaNat

Losing weight is a family affair. That’s right, even if only one person has weight to lose, research has shown that children have the most success losing weight when the entire family is involved. It’s important to remember that, especially since obesity rates have doubled in the last ten years. Take a look at these statistics:

  • More than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese.
  • More than 1 in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity.
  • About one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese.

While these stats are sobering, there are definitely ways to reverse them. Losing weight successfully should involve the entire family, and these 5 tips will make losing weight as a family a reality.

Set a good example

A 2013 study  found that when parents model healthy behaviors, like eating right and exercising, children are more likely to follow suit. It sounds like common sense, but parents don’t always realize the impact that their behavior has on the child. Although you may think your child isn’t listening to you, they are watching, observing and mimicking your behavior. For the child and parents to lose weight together, it must be a joint effort of healthy eating and exercise from both parties. If the parent wants the child to stop drinking soda or cut back on sugary desserts, the parent needs to do the same.

Focus on Health, Not Weight

Focusing on weight as a number can be very difficult for the child and parent. Weight has a negative stigma associated with it, and numbers on a scale don’t always tell the whole story. The best way to approach weight loss as a family is to focus on eating right and being active in order to be healthy. When the entire family gets involved, it signifies that eating healthy foods is not part of a “diet”, but rather it’s about being strong, fit and healthy. If the entire family commits to making lifelong behavior changes, it demonstrates that this is not about short-term changes or quick solutions. Instead, it creates lifelong habits that will help build a happier, healthier family.

Eat protein

In general, children love carbohydrate-heavy foods, like mac & cheese, pizza, french fries and ice cream. A diet rich in refined carbohydrates has been linked to higher weights. Therefore, it’s really imperative for the family to start including protein at every meal. Make sure you do this as a family and don’t just force it on the child without modeling the behavior yourself (see tip #1). Here’s an example of a typical day of eating with protein included:

  • Breakfast: Low-sugar cereal with milk or yogurt smoothie
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with piece of fruit
  • Snack: Cheese stick with apple slices or carrots with 2 tablespoons of hummus
  • Dinner: Chicken stir fry or turkey burgers

Protein helps keep you feeling full long after a meal. Therefore, adding protein to meals will prevent you from overeating later in the day.

Stay active

This may also seem like a no-brainer, but both adults and children need to get exercise every day to maintain a healthy weight. Adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, like a brisk walk, on all or most days. Children need to be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day, and it’s okay if that 60 minutes is spread throughout the course of the day. To encourage physical activity within the family, incorporate enjoyable indoor and outdoor activities into your daily routine. Jump rope, play basketball, walk the dog, visit batting cages, listen to music, take a martial arts class, listen to music and dance or play a game of tag in the year.  The best way to encourage physical activity is to limit TV and screen time to no more than one hour per day.

Involve your children

Losing weight doesn’t happen overnight–it requires planning. You must spend time and effort going grocery shopping and planning healthy meals. It’s vital to include children in this planning process. Bring children to the supermarket and let them pick out anything they want from the produce section. Challenge them to buy at least 3 different colored fruits and veggies. At home, have children help you search the internet or cookbooks for recipes using those ingredients. Lastly, involve children in the cooking process. Whereas adults think of cooking as work, children love to get involved in the kitchen. Have them help measure, stir, and mix ingredients to make a healthy dish. They are much more likely to try something healthy if they helped make it!

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD  |  @NutritionalaNat

You may think that healthy eating requires a ton of time, effort and energy. But what if I told you that there are certain things you can keep in the house to make healthy eating easier? These 10 items are simple things that every family should have in their household to make whipping up a healthy meal a breeze.

1. Olive Oil

Rich in monounsaturated fats, aka “good fats”, olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to lowering your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Olive oil can be used in place of butter in any recipe or to whip up a healthy salad dressing. But oil is very high in calories, so try to stick to less than 3 tablespoons per day.

2. Fresh or dried herbs

Herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, rosemary, thyme, basil and sage are a wonderful, salt-free way to add flavor and nutrients to your home cooking. While I suggest buyin fresh herbs during each visit to the supermarket, I realize that it’s much more economical to keep dried herbs in your pantry. To get all the nutrients of fresh herb, try drying your own. Leave fresh herbs out on a plate for several days until they dry up; store them in a plastic baggie.

3. Fruit bowl

One of the easiest ways to get your kids to eat fruit is to leave it out on the table in a big bowl. Research has shown that people are much more likely to reach for snacks in their line of sight. By keeping a fruit bowl out in the kitchen and storing junky snacks away in a cabinet, you are enticing your family to go for the apple rather than the cookie.

4. Blender

Kids love smoothies, and smoothies are packed with nutritious fruits and veggies. Prep your smoothies ahead of time by placing 1 cup of frozen berries, 1 cup of spinach and ½ unpeeled banana in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. When you’re ready to make the smoothie, place the contents of the ag into the blender, add ½ cup of vanilla yogurt and 1 cup of milk or water and blend.

5. Whisk

A whisk is one of my favorite no-fuss kitchen tools because I use it to make homemade salad dressings. Store bought dressings are filled with additives, preservatives, extra salt and extra sugar. Instead, make your own by whisking together 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of vinger. Voila—you’ve got a homemade dressing in seconds.

6. Dried whole grains

Dried whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, farro, bulgur or sorghum, are great to have on hand to throw together a healthy dinner in a flash. Whole grains contain fiber and protein, both of which keep you fuller longer and help with weight management. Mix any cooked whole grain with a few veggies, a protein (like chicken, fish or beans), fresh herbs or spices and you’ve got a delicious meal in a bowl any night of the week.

7. Beans

Along the same lines as whole grains, dried or canned beans are a wonderful pantry staple that can be mixed with almost anything to create a hearty and satisfying meal. Packed with fiber and protein, beans are an inexpensive and healthy ingredient to always keep on hand. It’s important to note that canned beans are packed in salt, so they should be rinsed and drained before serving.

8. Frozen veggies

People often think that frozen veggies don’t provide the same nutrients as fresh veggies, which is completely untrue. Frozen veggies are picked at the peak of freshness and then frozen, so they contain the same nutrients as fresh veggies. Frozen veggies can come in handy when your fridge is looking bare. Add them to soups, smoothies or whole grain dishes.

9. Fresh spices

I say “fresh” because spices do have an unstated expiration date. According to the spice company McCormick, these are the suggested shelf lives of spices:

Ground Spices – 3 to 4 years

Whole Spices – 4 years

Dried, Leafy Herbs – 1 to 3 years

If you haven’t replaced your spices for 10 years, it’s time for an upgrade.

10. Family meal time

You got me—this isn’t really an “item”, but rather something that I encourage all families to implement at least a few times per week. Eating meals as a family encourages healthy eating and a healthy relationship with food. When children see parents eating healthy foods, they are more likely to try that foods themselves!

A-Game Sports’ nutritionist can speak with your child and work with you to setup a unique individual nutrition plan to reach all of your health goals. Set up a nutrition consultation today.

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and food and nutrition writer, specializing in sports nutrition and adolescent nutrition education. Natalie has worked with many prestigious organizations, such as Hospital for Special Surgery, the American Dairy Association & Dairy Council, NY Yankees Baseball Camps and NYC Charter Schools.  She has also written for many food and nutrition publications, such as Women’s Running, Spright, Toby Amidor Nutrition, The Active Times, SuperKids Nutrition and Food & Nutrition Magazine, and she has been quoted in Women’s Health Magazine and Men’s Health.

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Although “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”, the holiday season can be extremely stressful for parents with the gift lists, crowded stores and endless holiday shopping. That’s why we put together a quick and easy holiday gift guide for active kids. Not only will these suggestions provide you with some last-minute gifts to finally finish your shopping, but they will also keep your kids happy, moving and healthy in 2017.

S’ip by S’well

I have one of these water bottles, and I don’t know how I ever lived without it. Not only is it great for adults on the go, it’s also perfect for children to keep in their backpacks or gym bags. Since all schools and sports centers have water fountains, this is the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way to keep your kids hydrated all day long.

This S’ip by S’well is 15 ounces and uses authentic technology to keep beverages cold and hot longer than your average bottle. Made from BPA-free, double-walled stainless steel, the S’ip keeps drinks cold all day long. Plus, they come in cute designs, like the bicycle one listed above.

UNICEF Kid Power

The holiday season is a time of giving, which is why these UNICEF KID Power bands caught my eye. The premise is simple—purchase a UNICEF Kid Power Band, and Target will donates $10 to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. The band tracks your child’s movement and the more they move, the more Kid Power points they earn. Kid Power points are converted to funding by partners, parents and fans. UNICEF then uses the funding to deliver lifesaving packets of therapeutic food to severely malnourished children. Not only does the band get your kids moving, but it helps a child in need.

For more information on the UNICEF Kid Power program, visit

Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete

by Jill Castle MS RDN CDN

As a Dietitian, I certainly recognize that all young athletes have their own nutritional needs. But most kids are unaware of basic sports nutrition principles and they don’t eat properly to compete. Much of the food that kids eat actually slows them down, but the right nutrition can increase their energy, bolster their motivation and improve their performance. This book, written by a Registered Dietitian, teaches kids how to:

  • Tailor diets for training, competition, and even off-season
  • Find the best food options, whether at home or on the go
  • Understand where supplements, sports drinks, and performance-enhancing substances do–and don’t–fit in

Plus, the book includes recipes for young athletes. It’s a must-read for every active kid, ages eight through eighteen.

Gorilla Gym Kids Deluxe

This indoor gym includes a swing, plastic rings, trapeze bar, climbing ladder, and swinging rope. And you can install it in seconds right in your doorway without drilling, holes, bolts, or marks on your walls or door frames. Perfect for ages 3-12, this indoor gym can hold 300 pounds and allows kids to climb, swing and play all day in the comfort and safety of your home. It’s perfect for the cold winter, when kids are trapped indoors.

Receiver Gloves

Great for any young football player, these extra sticky and flexible Nike Receiver Gloves are very popular with young athletes. The palm provides a superior catching surface to help improve catchability from wild throws. The synthetic mesh on the backhand allows air in to keep hands cool and dry, and the adjustable wrist closure secures the gloves’ fit for ideal performance.

Nike Headbands


For the young female athlete who wants to avoid distraction while playing, these headbands are stylish and functional. The silicone interior holds hair in place during intense activity so that hair isn’t flopping in her face. And, she’ll love the variety of colors and styles in her pack of headbands that allow her to customize her personal style whether she’s in class or at team practice. 

A-Game Sports Gift Certificate

A-Game Sports offers first class instruction programs for kids of all ages in baseball, soccer, softball, lacrosse and even basketball. In addition to one on one and small group lessons, athletes of all skill levels (from beginners to seasoned players) can choose among the many sport-specific scheduled classes and instructional programs that A-GAME SPORTS has to offer all year round.

We are also focused on teaching kids to be better people and live healthy lifestyles. As part of this goal, we offer nutrition counseling services for you and your child. The

A-Game Sports nutritionist can speak with your child and work with you to setup a unique individual nutrition plan to reach all of your 2017 health goals.

**Mention this article and receive 20% OFF nutrition counseling services at A-GAME SPORTS! Offer valid until 1/15/17

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and food and nutrition writer, specializing in sports nutrition and adolescent nutrition education. Natalie has worked with many prestigious organizations, such as Hospital for Special Surgery, the American Dairy Association & Dairy Council, NY Yankees Baseball Camps and NYC Charter Schools.  She has also written for many food and nutrition publications, such as Women’s Running, Spright, Toby Amidor Nutrition, The Active Times, SuperKids Nutrition and Food & Nutrition Magazine, and she has been quoted in Women’s Health Magazine and Men’s Health.

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

As a Dietitian, I’m always bothered by the fact that kids menus consist of a bunch of fried foods and starchy pasta options. Restaurants are setting kids up to fail by not offering them any healthy options. But in the past few years, there’s been a trend in the fast food industry to care more about nutrition and health and offer healthier options for children.

The standard children’s meal at almost any fast food restaurant now gives the choice to add apple slices, yogurt or milk in place of soda and fries. Unfortunately, fast food options at places like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King still include plenty of missteps. For instance, all three chains offers juices that are loaded with sugar and processed chicken nuggets, which are breaded and full of unnecessary additives. While these alternatives are lower in calories and include more nutrients than the original fried offerings, they are still not the best foods for kids to be eating several times a week.

With that being said, some fast food places are definitely getting it right. Knowing where to go for healthy food choices for kids is just as important as knowing what to order. Visit any of these five chains and look for these meal offerings to ensure that your child is getting the best ingredients and learning how to choose healthy options.


Subway offers a Fresh Fit For Kids menu, which includes 4 varieties of mini sandwiches that come with apple slices and plain milk. I wouldn’t recommend the Roast Beef Sandwich because it’s a very fat meat with a high saturated fat content. Instead, opt for the Veggie Delite mini sub (just 285 calories with apple slices and a low-fat milk) or the Turkey Breast Mini Sub with a side of apples and a low-fat milk for a total of 315 calories. If your child isn’t a fan of milk, they can opt for water.

For teenagers who need something a little more substantial, order the 6 inch version of these subs or the oven-roasted or rotisserie chicken subs. All come in under 250 calories and contain plenty of great lean protein.


Panera’s kid’s menu motto is “At Panera, kids shouldn’t have to imagine what’s in their food.” With fresh ingredients that you can see, parents can feel good about ordering almost anything off the kids menu, including soups, salads, sandwiches and yogurt. Some great choices are the turkey chili, autumn squash soup, tomato soup, chicken noodle soup, any salad or a turkey sandwich. Each option is less than 300 calories and includes healthy protein or veggies. And, my favorite part is that all of these offering (minus the turkey sandwich) are available for adults. Panera doesn’t believe that kids should only choose from less nutritious junk foods.


Chipotle recently removed all antibiotics in their meats. and they are committed to serving whole ingredients that you can see and taste. While Chipotle’s portions are sometimes larger than necessary, they have some portion friendly options for children. Kid’s meal at Chipotle includes two small tacos with lean proteins like chicken or beans, brown rice, lots of veggie toppings, fruit and milk or water. The best option for kids is 2 hard tacos, filled with chicken, black beans, and veggies and a low-fat plain milk, which comes in under 500 calories. Definitely lay off the sour cream, cheese and chips to avoid unneeded calories.


Hear me out—while Starbucks is known for sugar-laden drinks and pastries, it also offers some great healthy grab and go options. They don’t have a children’s menu, but they offer some great healthy sandwiches and breakfast options. For breakfast, you can pick up a delicious whole grain oatmeal with fresh fruit or a spinach, feta, and egg white wrap. Don’t think your kid will eat spinach? Try one of their yogurt and fruit cups. For lunch, there are plenty of sandwich options, like Turkey Pesto Panini or Chicken Artichoke on Ancient Grain Flatbread. When you’re in a bind and the only thing around is Starbucks, there are definitely healthy options for both adults and children.

Au Bon Pain

Au Bon Pain is another spot that doesn’t have a kid’s menu but has plenty of great nourishing options. Like Panera, Au Bon Pain offers plenty of healthy soups, salads and sandwiches. The best options for kids are the Harvest Turkey Wrap, the Veggie and Hummus Wrap, and Turkey and Swiss Sandwich. They also offer plenty of veggie-filled soup options, like 12 Vegetable, Southwest Tortilla and Turkey Chili.

With this list of healthy fast food options, you’ll never find yourself ordering chicken fingers and fries for your little one again!

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Between buying new school supplies and squeezing in last minute trips to the pool, the back to school routine is certainly hectic for any family. When September finally arrives, many kids and parents need time to readjust to the school schedule, and there isn’t much time to think about starting the school year on a healthy note. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead to create healthy habits for the rest of the school year. A-Game Sports has 7 easy tips for your family to start the school year off right.

  • Get enough sleep.


    According to the National Sleep Foundation, children ages 6-13 need 9-11 hours of sleep per night. Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems, such as ADHD, and cognitive problems that can cause learning problems in school. Skimping on sleep has also been associated with overeating, poor food choices and weight gain. To make sure your child gets enough sleep, set a consistent and realistic bedtime. Try to get everyone in bed within 30 minutes of the set time. Although this may be tough at first, everyone will adjust to this new routine in 2-4 weeks.

  • Eat breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially as kids head back to school. Research shows better nutrition — including consumption of healthy foods such as low-fat and fat-free dairy, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins — may lead to better performance in school. Protein rich breakfast options, like eggs and dairy products, will help them feel fuller longer and will keep their energy levels up throughout morning classes. Add a slice of cheese to omelets or create a fruit and yogurt smoothie to get your morning started off right.
  • Stay on top of fitness routines. For young athletes who slacked on their fitness routines over the summer, September is the time to get back into shape. Luckily, kids’ bodies bounce back rather quickly, and they should have no trouble getting back into the swing of things. Still, it’s important to stay active with the start of the new school year. (Check out the A-Game Sports programs here)
  • Pack healthy snacks for practice. Many athletes will be starting new sports, and it’s important to make sure they fuel properly. Choosing the right type of fuel is essential for athletic performance. Carbohydrates provide the best source of energy for workouts. I always suggest carbs that contain plenty of nutrients, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Here are some great suggestions to throw in your child’s backpack to give them energy that will last throughout practice:
    • Dry cereal; low-sugar brands like Barbara’s Puffins, Kix or Cheerios
    • Whole wheat crackers and a cheese stick
    • ½ peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread
    • Make your own trail mix by mixing together a ¼ cup of low-salt nuts, raisins, and ¼ cup of pretzels.
    • Apple, orange or banana. Fresh fruit is high in nutrients and they also have a high water content, which is great for hydration!
  • Hydration is so incredibly important for children.


    Kids have a greater body surface area for their body weight than adults, so they gain heat faster from the environment and feel hotter quicker. They need to drink very frequently during exercise, and cold water is the perfect refresher. A good rule of thumb is that children need about 4 ounces (or ½ cup) of water for every 20 minutes of play. Make sure you teach your children about the importance of hydration, or they might just forget to drink all together! Pack a reusable water bottle in your child’s backpack, so they can fill it up at a school water fountain.

  • Prioritize family dinners. How often do you sit down for an hour with your family without phones or television? Probably not too often. Starting the school year on a healthy note is not just about healthy eating and exercise; it’s also a time to consider your child’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Studies have shown that regular family dinners are associated with lowering high risk teenage behaviors, like smoking, binge drinking, violence and school problems. Also, eating dinner as a family decreases children’s stress levels and encourages positive family relationships that can create stronger connections away from the table.
  • Limit screen time. According to recent research, 8-10 year-olds spend nearly 8 hours a day with different media, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. Sound alarming? The American Academy of Physicians suggests limiting entertainment “screen time” to two hours a day for children ages 3-18. And, for 2-year-olds and younger, none at all. Some research suggests that screen time is associated with childhood obesity, irregular sleep patternsand behavioral issues. To help cut down the screen time, parents can model effective media behavior by keeping their own screen time to a minimum. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values. Make a media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms.

By following any or all of these tips, your family will start the school year out on a healthy note. Try implementing just 1 or 2 tips at first, and as they become part of your routine, add more. Before you know it, these healthy habits will become part of your family’s regular routine.

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Imagine this scenario. Your young athlete did the work all summer long. Practice, hitting the gym, followed by more practice. They feel great going into try-outs, but they are too nervous and rushed to eat breakfast that morning. Afterwards, when you ask how try-outs went, they explain that they lacked energy and felt lightheaded during the try-out. The worse case scenario is that they don’t make the cut, but how could that happen after a summer of preparation? Well, there may be a missing link in their performance—fueling.

How The Body Gets Energy

Although practice and training are vital components of an athlete’s life, the energy to perform isn’t based on athletic ability alone. Energy comes from eating calories, specifically carbohydrates. When we eat carbs, our body stores them as something called glycogen. During exercise, glycogen is the first source of quick fuel providing energy for about 15-20 minutes. Once the glycogen is used up, the body begins to burn any dietary carbs that are floating around in the blood stream.

What Happens If You Don’t Eat?

Your body needs fuel for basic functions, like keeping the brain working and the heart pumping. If you don’t eat enough and the body is lacking fuel, it will still make fuel by breaking down its own muscle and fat. For children who are constantly working to grow and get stronger, this breakdown of muscle can be detrimental. And, the process of making fuel from muscle is very inefficient and requires a ton of energy that will make them feel drained during a workout. Without food before a try-out, practice or game, a young athlete will feel tired, sluggish, lightheaded or nauseous.

The Right Type of Fuel

Choosing the right type of fuel is essential to performance. As mentioned earlier, carbohydrates provide the best source of energy for workouts. But, it’s important to choose the right type of carbohydrate. I always suggest carbs that contain plenty of nutrients, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But, the type of carb you eat depends on WHEN you eat. These simple tips on meal timing and composition will help any young athlete feel energized on their big day.

30-60 minutes before a workout:

Eat “simple carbs”. These types of carbs are digested quickly and will not cause an upset stomach. Examples of simple carbs are fruit, juice, white bread, low-fiber cereals, white crackers and pretzels. Although we often think of some of these foods as “bad”, they are necessary for athletes that need quick fuel. Try to keep these portions small (like the size of your fist) to avoid stomach distress and unneeded extra calories.

2-4 hours before a workout:

Eat “complex carbs”. These types of carbs take longer to digest and will provide extended energy for a long period of time. Mix the complex carbs with some protein and a little fat for a well-balanced meal. Examples of complex carbs are whole grains, vegetables, beans and legumes.

These are some well-balanced pre-exercise meal options that include a complex carb, some protein and a little bit of fat.

  • ½ Whole Wheat Bagel with Peanut Butter and Jelly
  • Rice Cake with Turkey & Avocado
  • Tuna Salad Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread
  • Turkey in a Whole Wheat Wrap with Lettuce and Tomato
  • Vegetables & Hummus
  • Whole Grain Cereal with Milk
  • Whole Wheat Crackers & a Cheese stick
What About Hydration?

The one other thing that can really affect fueling and try-out performance is hydration. Children get hotter faster than adults because they have a greater body surface area for their body weight. That means they gain heat faster from the environment than adults. They need to drink very frequently during exercise and cold water is the perfect refresher. A good rule of thumb is that children need about 4 ounces (or ½ cup) of water for every 20 minutes of play.  Unfortunately, the thirst mechanism that lets the brain know it’s time to drink is usually inaccurate. Therefore, young athletes need to be taught about the importance of hydration, or they might just forget to drink all together. Fresh fruit is also high in water, and orange slice breaks before or during practice should be encouraged!

With all of the hard work your young athlete put in all summer long, don’t let them have a bad day because they missed out on good fuel. Follow these simple tips to make sure they secure a spot on the team!

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Sicore |

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Obesity is one of the most prevalent diseases among children in the United States. To put that into perspective, here are some statistics:

  • According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 18% of children, age 6-11, are obese.
  • More than 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese.
  • About 20% of children are already overweight or obese before they enter school.
  • Research shows that overweight kindergartners are four times as likely as their healthy-weight classmates to be obese by eighth grade.
  • An overweight child, age 3-5, is three times more likely to become an obese adult than a healthy weight peer.

Those are some scary statistics, especially when obese people have a higher risk of developing hypertension, type two diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, respiratory problems, and some cancers.  While those issues may not develop until later in life, overweight or obese children can feel hindered by their weight or suffer ridicule from their peers. Obviously, childhood obesity is no laughing matter, but there are several things you can do to prevent and treat childhood obesity.

What is a healthy weight?

Pediatric weight guidelines are much different than adult guidelines.  The best way to assess your child’s weight is to talk to your pediatrician.  It is important to obtain an overweight or obese diagnosis from your doctor before taking action. Body mass index (BMI), or the indicator of weight status, is age- and sex-specific for children and teens.

After BMI is calculated for children and teens, it is expressed as a percentile that is relative to other children in the U.S.

BMI-for-age percentile shows how your child’s weight compares to that of other children of the same age and sex. For example, a BMI-for-age percentile of 65% means that the child’s weight is greater than that of 65% of other children of the same age and sex. Normal or healthy weight weight status is based on a BMI between the 5th and 85th percentile on the CDC growth chart. It is difficult to provide healthy weight ranges for children and teens because the interpretation of BMI depends on weight, height, age, and sex. Therefore, it is very important to talk to your pediatrician about your child’s weight status. However, if you would like an idea of your child’s BMI before talking to the doctor, you can calculate the BMI at home using this BMI calculator.

How can I treat an overweight or obese child?

Once you receive an overweight or obese diagnosis for your child, there are several ways to combat the issue. There are many schools of thought on whether you should discuss weight with your child. In my opinion, if the discussion will conjure negative feelings by you or your child, it should be avoided. It is better to take action rather than have a negative discussion about the topic. There are several positive ways to encourage healthy weight loss for your child, which will  teach lifelong healthy habits.

  1. Meet with a Registered Dietitian. A Registered Dietitian (RD) is schooled in nutrition, food intolerances and medical nutrition therapy. An RD can help you and your child tackle healthy eating obstacles and set weight loss goals. A-Game Sports has an in-house Dietitian and offers nutrition counseling for children and families.
  2. Make eating out a special treat. Some families visit fast food restaurants quite often. Unfortunately, the options at these places are usually quite unhealthy. Instead, make eating out a “sometimes” occurrence, in which you let the child choose the restaurant.
  3. Use MyPlate. This handy tool, created by the USDA, is perfect to teach children about portion control. Give your child drawing tools, and let them draw what they would put on their plate, using the MyPlate as a guide.

  1. Let children be the decision makers.  Bring your child to the supermarket and let them choose all the fruits and veggies for the household.  This will not only empower your child, but they will be more likely to eat the foods they chose.
  2. Cook with your child.  Pick out a healthy recipe with your child and then cook it together.  Make sure the recipe has fruits and vegetables! Children are much more likely to eat foods that they cooked, and it’s a family bonding experience.
My child is healthy, so I don’t need to worry.

That’s not exactly true. Children learn more about food and eating during their first five years than during any other developmental period; these are the years during which food preferences and eating habits are established. Unhealthy diet and physical activity behaviors learned at very early ages are likely to persist throughout life. All of the above tips can also apply to a normal weight child in order to establish healthy eating habits.  The best way to combat childhood obesity is by practicing prevention.  Prevention efforts should begin as early as possible. Make food a source of nourishment, rather than a cause for concern.

Have any questions about treating an overweight or obese child? Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, specializing in sports nutrition and adolescent nutrition education. She’s excited to spread the message of healthy eating and “food as fuel” at A-Game Sports. To find out more about our Nutritionist or to schedule an appointment for you or your child, visit our nutrition counseling page.

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Fat has gotten a really bad reputation over the years. Back in the 90’s, people were scared of fats, and many food companies thought that they could make a food healthier by removing the fat. Remember all those fat-free snacks that filled supermarket shelves? In place of the fat would be extra added sugar, which is actually much worse for you. Luckily, those days are long gone, and we now know that certain types of fat are actually vital and beneficial to your health.

What does fat do?

Fat is your body’s storage and protection mechanism. A long time ago, our ancestors would go long periods of time without eating, and they had fat stored up to provide energy during these times without food. Fat was good in times of desperation because it contains the most calories of the macronutrients—9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates and protein. Fat also acts as protection for the major organs, such as the kidneys, heart and liver. Lastly, certain vitamins (A,D, E and K) are fat-soluble, meaning that fat is necessary to absorb these nutrients. Yet, too much fat can clog arteries and cause serious health problems. Where is the happy medium? The answer lies in the type of fat you consume.

What are the different types of fat?

  • Saturated fats, aka the “bad” fats, are mostly found in animal sources like meat, eggs, cheese, butter, and milk. Saturated fat is also prevalent in many desserts, such as cupcakes, pastries, donuts and candy. Too much saturated fat can cause health problems, such as high cholesterol and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 5-6% of calories come from saturated fat.
  • Unsaturated fats, aka the “good” fats, are made up of several types of fats, including omega 3’s and omega 6’s. The omegas are essential fatty acids, meaning that the body does not make them and needs them for survival. Therefore, it’s essential that we eat these types of fat. “Good” fats are usually found in plant sources, such as avocados, nuts, soy beans, flax seeds, oils, and fatty fish.

The only difference between saturated fat and unsaturated fat is the structure of the molecule. One type of fat has more chemical bonds than the other.

Fat and the athlete

So, if fats are high in calories, why feed them to a child athlete that needs to be quick and lean? Well, omega-3 and omega 6 fats have been linked to many beneficial health responses. Many studies have found that a diet rich in “good” fats can enhance brain function, may lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, and can actually reduce the risk of developing serious diseases like heart disease and cancer. While these risks are not often at the top of a child’s mind, it’s important to establish healthy eating habits with young athletes. With proper nutrition knowledge, they can grow up to be their healthiest selves and play to the best of their ability.

But, during sports seasons, when should children be eating these “good” fats? Fats take a long time to digest and are, therefore, an inefficient energy source. It’s important to eat fats 3-4 hours before a practice or game and pair them with other nutrients, like carbs and protein. For example, a turkey (protein) sandwich on whole wheat bread (carbs) with avocado (“good” fats) or a side of nuts (“good” fats) is a great option for your child’s lunchbox if they have a practice or game later in the day. Your child will have 3-4 hours to digest and will reap the many benefits from these healthy fats.

The bottom line. There is such a thing as a “good” fat, and it’s a vital part of every diet. Yet, like all other nutrients, they should be eaten in moderation. Generally, most people don’t eat enough essential fats, so there’s no need to shy away from fish, nuts, avocados and oils.

To add more “good” fat to your diet, try making these easy Cinnamon Roasted Almonds.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, Nutrition à la Natalie

Makes 4 snack servings


1 cup raw whole almonds
½ tablespoon agave
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
cooking spray or drizzle of Canola oil


1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Place almonds in a mixing bowl.  Drizzle agave or honey over the almonds.  Use a spatula to stir and coat the almonds with agave.

3) Mix in cinnamon and salt and stir with a spatula.  Try to make sure the almonds are evenly coated.

4 Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, or drizzle with canola oil (spread oil over pan with paper towel).  Spread almonds evenly on the pan.

5) Bake for 10 minutes.

6) While still warm, taste the almonds and add a sprinkle of cinnamon if desired.  Let cool, and enjoy!

Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, specializing in sports nutrition and adolescent nutrition education. She’s excited to spread the message of healthy eating and “food as fuel” at A-Game Sports. To find out more about our Nutritionist or to schedule an appointment for you or your child, visit our nutrition counseling page.

By Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

Sugar is a baffling topic for many parents. You know that your young athletes need extra energy for their sport, but you may not know where sugar hides in food and how much sugar is too much. The A-Game Sports Nutritionist is here to unravel the sugar mystery so you can have healthy, happy athletes.

There are two different types of sugar: “natural sugar” and “added sugar”. Natural sugar is naturally found in foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains. Added sugar refers to sugar that is added to food for taste. Unfortunately, the food label does not specify if a sugar is natural or added, so one has to be a bit of a sugar detective. To find added sugar, inspect the ingredient list. Look for sugar’s aliases, such as high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, honey, raw sugar, malt syrup, rice syrup, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, cane sugar, crystalline fructose, beet sugar, coconut sugar and caramel. If you see these ingredients, you know that sugar has been added to the food.

As you might expect, added sugar is found in many processed foods, like cookies, candy, ice cream and sodas. It’s also in many packaged foods that kids like to eat before a practice or game. Whereas natural sugar foods provide long lasting energy during exercise, these processed foods provide short bursts of energy followed by a crash. For example, eating sugary foods before a basketball game will cause an inevitable energy crash in the 2nd or 3rd quarter. And, any A-Game Sports coach will tell you that basketball games are won by the team whose players still have their legs in the 4th quarter. That’s why it’s extremely important to recognize foods with added sugar and make healthier natural sugar swaps.

Where does sugar hide?

Cereals: Have you ever looked at the nutrition label of Raisin Bran? A 1-cup serving contains 18 grams or 4.5 teaspoons of sugar, and most kids probably eat double that before a big game! Cereal is a huge staple among kids, and, there are much less sugary but tasty brands. Barbara’s Puffins has only 5 grams of sugar (or 1 teaspoon) in ¾ cup. Kix or Cheerios are even better options with only 1 gram of sugar in ¾ cup.

Granola and granola bars: Most parents think that granola bars are healthy snacks for their kids, but they often contain tons of honey and syrup. Nature Valley Granola bars have 11 grams or 3 teaspoons of added sugar per pack. As a healthier alternative, make your own trail mix by mixing together a ¼ cup of low-salt nuts, raisins, and ¼ cup of pretzels. This will satisfy your child’s pre-game hunger without weighing them down.

Fruit snacks: Although they are called “fruit” snacks, these gummies have almost no trace of fruit in them. A tiny bag of Welch’s fruit snacks contains 11 grams or 3 teaspoons of sugar. The healthier alternative is (obviously) fresh fruit. Apples and oranges are great fruits to send with your kids to school or summer camp. They are high in nutrients and they also have a high water content, which is great for hydration!

Yogurt: Yogurt is a great source of pre-workout fuel because it contains both healthy carbs (in lactose) and protein. However, “fruited” yogurt is packed with added sugar. A 5- ounce container of fruited yogurt contains ~14 grams or 3.5 teaspoons of added sugar. A better alternative is plain Greek yogurt with chopped bananas and raisins.

Soda/Fruit juice: It’s no secret that soda is packed with sugar, but did you know that fruit juice is very similar? A small Capri Sun has 20 grams or 5 teaspoons of added sugar! Fill your child’s water bottle with water! Not only will it cut out unnecessary sugar, but it will keep them hydrated throughout the day.

You may be thinking, “Doesn’t my kid need extra calories because of all the running around?” Yes, they do, but they don’t need extra sugar. Providing extra calories from foods that contain natural sugar also provides many other beneficial nutrients to the diet, such as fiber, protein, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, Vitamin A, potassium, and iron. These nutrients are extremely important for your child’s growth and development and will only enhance their endurance and stamina in their sport. In contrast, eating a diet high in added sugar has been linked to frequent cavities, overweight and obesity and the development of serious diseases, such as Diabetes. When choosing a food with sugar, ask yourself if it came from mother nature. If the answer is yes, you can bet it’s the right choice!

Meet the A-Game Nutritionist! Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, specializing in sports nutrition and adolescent nutrition education. She’s excited to spread the message of healthy eating and “food as fuel” at A-Game Sports. To find out more about our Nutritionist or to schedule an appointment for you or your child, visit our nutrition counseling page.