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Food to Fuel Kids for a Hike

What to feed kids before, during, and after a hike.

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Remember hiking before kids? Throw on a pair of sneaks, grab a bottle of water and granola bar, and hit the trails. Now there are a few more considerations, primary among them, how to power the kids through hikes to keep the “hangry” at bay. Heather Roraff, registered dietitian at Swedish Medical Center, shares how to fuel kids before, during, and after a hike.

H20

Water is an obvious, but understated, necessity for hiking. While the amount of water needed is dependent on the length of your hike, age, and weight of your kiddo, and their thirst level, Roraff advises bringing an abundance of water, even recommending that kiddos wear their own hydration packs. Camelbak makes packs specifically for children, with 1.5 ounce water reservoirs and extra room in the pack to bring more water, if needed, and snacks. Unless they’re older, kids typically don’t tell you they’re thirsty, so schedule frequent hydration breaks and have everyone take a sip. For hikes longer than a few hours, Roraff advises bringing drinks with electrolyte replacement, like Gatorade, Propel, or Nuun tablets.

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Before You Hit the Trail

Before a hike, choose food that will digest slower and fuel kids through the beginning of a hike. Roraff recommends making a breakfast that includes protein, a complex carbohydrate, and fat. Think scrambled eggs with whole wheat toast, and fruit, or oatmeal with milk and nuts or seeds.

On the Trail

For during-hike snacks, Roraff recommends foods with protein and simple sugars to give kids quick energy. For your own sanity, look for items that are easy to carry and don’t make a mess. Snacks like peanut butter pretzels, cheese sticks, trail mix, peanut butter pouches, fruits that pack well like mandarin oranges, grapes, and sliced apples, and salted nuts and seeds (great for electrolytes) all make easy portable snacks. Try ants on a log with celery, peanut butter, raisins, and chocolate chips as a fun and fuel-infused treat for younger kids.

Over pack

As a parent, you know best what hunger levels your child usually exhibits, but it’s always better to over pack on snacks. As a general rule of thumb, pack one or two snack items for each child on shorter hikes. For half day and longer hikes, aim for at least three snacks per child to keep their energy levels up.

Post Hike

When the hiking shoes come off, aim for a snack with protein, fat, and complex carbs like a turkey sandwich with cheese on whole wheat bread, with fruit and chips. “I recommend families keep a cooler in the car, that way they can pack a full meal and have a picnic once they get back to the car,” says Roraff. Let kids rest and have a bite to eat, and there’s a better chance they’ll nap on the way home.

I Scream for Ice Cream

Finally, getting kids to finish a hike could mean parents need to employ bribing, er, incentivizing. “As a mother and a dietitian, I am fully OK with some kind of treat at the end of a hike,” says Roraff. “The promise of hot cocoa in a thermos, a few cookies, or ice cream just to keep them going.”

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