what to feed a hungry kid after swim team practice

afternoon cookies

buckwheat cookies ingredients

I’m typing this as I sit by the side of a pool.

You might think I’m in the warm sunlight, an open book on my lap, a fruity drink with a tiny umbrella by my side. Goodness, no. (Gosh, but that sounds mighty fine, however.) Instead, I’m staring at grey skies through skylights above the pool at our gym. There are chops and splashes, coaches chanting, and not much laughter. Everything smells of chlorine. This white plastic chair is wobbly, so I have one foot jammed down on that leg. And I’m trying to protect the laptop from getting wet.

It’s Wednesday afternoon, time for swim team practice.

Our daughter lives to swim. Even when I was pregnant with her, I could feel her swimming in me, nearly constantly. She swam and danced and swayed her head, back and forth, back and forth. It didn’t take long after her birth to realize who she is: at six weeks, she started crawling up Danny’s chest while we lay on the bed. This girl likes to move.

We didn’t set out to make her the youngest kid on the swim team. If anything, I wanted her to wait, to start team sports later. But this girl, she loves the water. When she was 2 or so, some very limited times we would let her watch something on our phone. She only wanted one thing: kids splashing. We put “kids splashing” into YouTube and let her watch the little videos taken by parents, proud of their kids swimming in backyard pools. We thought she liked seeing the other kids. Now we realize she was studying. (Lu loves to move but she listens and studies while she dances.) The first time we went to the pool, after we put the blow-up water wings on her arms, she took one look at the surface of the water, and dove right in.

She never had any fear. She only delighted in that weightless, freeing feeling of floating. She taught herself to breathe under water. She knew how to kick her feet. She took to it as though she had been swimming for decades. Maybe she had. If she lived a life before this, she was definitely a swimmer.

(It’s possible that Lu is the only 5-year-old in 2014 who tries to copy Esther Williams routines.)

We learned after she was three that she slept through the night if we took her swimming in the afternoon. We started moving through the water with her four or five days a week. On some of those days, the swim team practiced on the other side of the pool. I watched her watch the teenage boys, studying their hands slicing through the surface of the water. And then she copied them, moving faster. Within a few weeks, the coaches came up to us and said, “Keep coming with that one. We’re watching her.” And when they said she was ready, the grin on her face told us it was her time.

So here I am, on a Wednesday afternoon, watching Lucy learn how to bend her elbows and point her hands as they break through the surface of the water. She’s the youngest kid on the team, by a year, and thus the slowest. And she keeps moving her arms, swaying her head, and moving forward.

The only thing I know? She’s going to be hungry when we’re done here.

Whole Grain Mornings

It took us years to realize that the most important food for Lu is what we give her after swimming. (And dance class on Tuesdays. And the soccer matches and basketball games and cross-country runs in her future, I’m sure.) If we give her empty food, she runs out of fuel before dinner. We have a tired, cranky kid on our hands, head nodding at the table. If we give her real food, with ingredients like dates and chia seeds and almond flour and coconut oil, she’s revived immediately. Those are the nights we dance to Baby Beatles! by Caspar Babypants after eating and doing the dishes.

Lu doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth. She loves the idea of ice cream but throws away her cone after five bites. But after swimming, she likes something slightly sweet. I’d rather she have sweets in the late afternoon, rather than after dinner. A dose of sweetener, right before bed? Bad idea. And let’s face it —— something handheld is going into her mouth faster than a bowl of salad. And so we’ve been giving her homemade cookies in the afternoon.

We’ve been loving a book called Feeding the Young Athlete: Sports Nutrition Made Easy for Players, Parents, and Coaches by Cynthia Lair, which lays out essential eating guidelines and nutrition for kids who move all the time. It’s a sensible guide for parents who want their kids to eat better food than packaged granola bars and neon-colored sports drinks. I swear by it for Lu.

And we are big, big fans of Megan Gordon’s new book, Whole-Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons. (I have to say that Megan is a dear friend, and we heard the stories about the making of this book from start to finish.) It’s a lovely book, filled with inventive recipes for healthy mornings. The recipe for Megan’s nutty millet breakfast cookies sparked a memory of some of Cynthia Lair’s guidelines for young athletes. Nuts, seeds, lots of protein, dried fruits, a mild sweetness. I knew Lu would love these.

So we turned these cookies gluten-free. (And they’re grain-free cookies too, since buckwheat is not a true grain, but a seed from the same family as rhubarb and sorrel.) They bake up golden brown at the edges, with a soft center, dotted with chopped pecans and dried cherries. Best of all, Lu loves them. After swim team practice, we strap her in her booster seat and hand her a cookie.

In fact, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to head into the locker room with Lu. She’s dripping wet and grinning before me.

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3:30 pm cookies

Yield: Makes 12 to 15 cookies, depending on the size

Megan’s recipe uses millet, oats, whole wheat flour, rolled oats, and wheat bran. Obviously, that recipe wouldn’t work for me! But since Megan wrote such a strong recipe, and put those ingredients in grams, I found it pretty easy to make it my own.

Soaking the buckwheat groats for 30 minutes softens them, so the final cookies have a little pop against the teeth. Don’t skip this step in a rush to make the cookies. You want the groats to be a crunchy surprise, not a reason to run to the dentist.

Of course, you can use any nuts or dried fruits you want here. Keep making these cookies, any way that works for you that day.

Ingredients

  • 120 grams buckwheat groats
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger)
  • 150 grams almond flour
  • 15 grams psyllium husk
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 60 grams pecans, chopped
  • 45 grams dried cherries
  1. Soaking the groats. Put the buckwheat groats in a bowl. Pour the hot coconut oil and honey over the groats. Add the grated ginger. Stir. Let the groats sit for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Combining the dry ingredients. Whisk together the almond flour, psyllium husk, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. Making the dough. Pour the soaked groats mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the egg. Stir it all together thoroughly with a rubber spatula. Add the chopped pecans and dried cherries.
  4. Refrigerating the dough. Let the dough sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before baking.
  5. Preparing to bake. Heat the oven to 325°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Baking the cookies. Make balls of dough 60 grams each (about the size of the palm of your hand). Put 6 of them onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake the cookies until are golden brown and set around the edges but just a bit soft in the center, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet then move them to a baking rack to cool completely.