Parents Guide to Nutritious Team Dinners

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If you're a parent (or a coach) of a Middle School or High School sports team, you're probably due for a large team dinner at some point in your son or daughter's sports tenure.

Often, the parents take turns hosting meals the night before (or the day of) the big game. To make these team dinners run as smoothly as possible, these meals need to be:

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If you're a parent (or a coach) of a Middle School or High School sports team, you're probably due for a large team dinner at some point in your son or daughter's sports tenure.

Often, the parents take turns hosting meals the night before (or the day of) the big game. To make these team dinners run as smoothly as possible, these meals need to be:

  • Filling and nutritious
  • Fast
  • Affordable

Building a Nutritious Plate

The right types of nutrients will help to fuel athletes as they prepare for a game or tournament. As parents, we have the power to provide nourishing foods for a meal that will create a competitive edge for your son or daughter's team.

An ideal plate for an athlete has these nutrients:

  1. High-quality carbohydrate and fats that fill up the body's energy tank. These are foods like cooked or baked potatoes, rice, beans, whole fruit, avocado and hummus spreads, and 100% whole grain or sprouted grain bread, wraps, or buns. Most athletes need about 2-3 cupped handful-sized portions of carbs and 1-2 thumb-sized portions of fat per meal, depending on their body size.
  2. Protein-rich foods help prepare the body's muscle tissue for competition. These are foods like chicken, lean beef, ham, sliced sandwich meat, Greek yogurt, fish, tempeh, and tofu. Most athletes need about 1-2 palm-sized portions per meal, depending on their body size.
  3. Colorful veggies provide important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. We'll talk about ways to sneak these in later.
  4. Water to keep athletes hydrated. Ditch the soda, lemonade, fruit juices, and Gatorade—you're athletes don't need it, and it's an extra expense.

Strategies to be Quick and Efficient

Teams often need to eat fast, and most parents don't have a lot of extra time to spend preparing the dish.

If you can, plan ahead. How many people will you be feeding? Don't forget to include the coaches and managers in your headcount. Will you use a caterer or make it yourself? Are there any allergies or dietary restrictions to consider? If your feeding the team before a game, be sure to allow at least two or three hours for proper digestion, so they don't experience cramps or indigestion while playing.

Keep it simple. This is not the time to test out a brand new recipe from Bobby Flay. Choose dishes that are familiar to most teens. Pick one main dish and plan the rest of your menu around it (i.e., carb sides, fruit/veggie, and dessert). Use disposable plates, cups, and cutlery. No one has time to wash 500 dishes.

Ask for help or volunteers. The more hands, the better. You will need help setting up, serving, and cleaning up.

Serve it buffet style. This is definitely the easiest way to do it. Set everything up on a long table in the order that it will be plated. Put the plates at the very beginning of the table, followed by the protein, then the carbohydrates, then the fats from toppings like avocados or spreads like hummus, the salad or fruit, dessert, cutlery, and finally the bottled water. This gives the athlete the freedom and power to make their own portioned plate and nutritional choices. Plus, with more and more food allergies, sensitivities, and food preferences, this is a safe route for making everyone happy and full.

Affordable Team Meal Ideas

Your best bet is to buy staple items in bulk like sandwich meats, large meat roasts, large bags of shredded veggies and lettuce, large cans of beans, bags of rice and other grains, family size yogurt, and whole-grain buns, wraps, noodles, or bread.

To save some prep and cooking time, many grocery stores have pre-made meals or large serving items like rotisserie chickens, fruit salad, hummus, guacamole, and large salads.

Slow Cooker

The slow cooker is a great tool for putting together a team meal. You can prepare large quantities for a hungry team, and the slow cooking means the meal will stay warm through weather delays and overtime.

Chili: Fall and winter is a great time for a traditional chili and checks all the nutritional boxes. With several slow cookers and secret recipes, you will have the makings for a team chili cook-off!

Meatballs: Use them to top your pasta, in make-your-own meatball subs, or as a stand-alone protein. Add a variety of dressings or sauces for people to choose from.

Pulled Pork: BBQ pulled pork can be prepared in your slow cooker and served with sides such as baked beans or roasted veggie and potato medley. Add a pre-made side salad and layout some fresh fruit for some additional sides.

Beef Stew: Made with beef and veggies and served over rice, this meal is easy and delicious.

Buffalo Chicken: Slow cook shredded chicken with your favorite buffalo sauce, served on a whole wheat bun. A real crowd pleaser!

Wraps and Salads

Wraps are a smart alternative to sandwiches because they can be made in advance and travel easily without the bread getting soggy. You can fill them with just about anything! They are also an easy meal to layout buffet style with some sides like fruit salad or yogurt parfaits.

Cold Cuts: A variety of ham, turkey, and cheese wraps can be prepared ahead of time for an easy team lunch at the field. Toppings like avocado and various hummus spreads can give them some flair.

Traditional Salad Bar: All the traditional greens, plus parents can contribute potato salad or pasta salad to round out the meal. Chicken or tuna salad works great as well.

Chicken Cesar: Whether you wrap it up or eat it as a salad, Chicken Cesar is a team favorite! All the ingredients can be stored separately in a cooler and combined quickly for an easy team lunch.

Traditional Salad Bar: All the traditional greens, plus parents can contribute potato salad or pasta salad to round out the meal. Chicken or tuna salad works great as well.

Sides and Deserts

Yogurt Parfaits: An easy side or dessert that can be made in advance and stored in the fridge. You can also layout ingredients like Greek yogurt, granola, fresh-cut fruit, dark chocolate chunks, and mixed nuts for the athletes to make their own.

Fruit Salad: A light lunch or side that travels well in a cooler. Bring some large containers of Greek yogurt as a way to add some protein to the equation.

Create your Own

Mexican Theme Bar: For an easy team dinner, have parents bring Mexican fillers, and players can make their own burritos. Black beans, rice, and tomatoes are some of the most inexpensive foods in the grocery store.

Potato Bar: This is an easy one — players can top their own baked potato with cheese, bacon, broccoli, or sour cream.

Spaghetti or pasta dishes: Who doesn't like a spaghetti dinner? Cook the noodles and offer a couple of sauces and toppings like slow cooker meatballs, chopped and steamed veggies, and shredded cheese.


On the Grill

Bringing the team meal outdoors and cooking on the grill can turn any team meal into a party! Tell parents to bring their own meat or sides to contribute.

Sliders: Go little! Grilled beef or chicken sliders are popular as a meal or aside.

Kabobs: If you have older kids on the team, they can help prepare the meats and vegetables for a kabob meal.

Burgers: Don't overlook traditional hamburgers. It's a classic team meal! For your team vegetarians, have a few veggie burgers on hand.

Grilled Chicken: Try out a fun new marinade and serve with sides like baked potatoes, rice, and veggie kabobs or put it on a sprouted grain bun for chicken sandwiches.

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Topics: DINNER | HIGH SCHOOL