How to Eat Smart and Play Safe

Hasselbeck Family Photo

Playing sports and eating healthy is part of my family’s DNA. My husband, Matt, is an NFL quarterback, I’m a former field hockey player, and our kids, who are ages 8, 10 and 11, play football, basketball and lacrosse. We love sports and enjoy being active.

To be successful on and off the field, I’ve learned the importance of a well-balanced diet that includes vitamins and nutrients, like the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, vitamin D, calcium and iron. Whether it’s hitting the books or the field, life can get pretty hectic and it can be hard to properly fuel our kids with healthy, nutritious food to keep them going through school, practice, games and other activities.

“Eat Smart, Play Safe” is a new educational program for busy parents of active kids, launched by Pop Warner Little Scholars, a nonprofit that provides youth sport programs, and DSM Nutritional Products, one of the world’s leading vitamin manufacturers. This program shares tips on how to prepare easy and convenient meals that pack a nutritional punch and please even picky eaters. It also leverages Pop Warner’s dedication to sports safety and shares information on how to help keep kids happy, healthy and safe when playing youth sports.

Eat Smart

I have teamed up with registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer to share a few “Eat Smart, Play Safe” nutrition tips with you:

• You are the nutrition gatekeeper for your family — stock your fridge and cabinets with only good, healthy choices.

•Adopt the philosophy that it’s your job to supply your child with a wide variety of nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk products and protein-rich meats or beans. It is your child’s responsibility to help choose what and how much of those foods he or she eats.

• Fruits and veggies are quick and easy snacks throughout the day, and they’re great for the car.

• Set rules and stick with them. It’s important for you to be a good role model for your kids and to set boundaries when it comes to the foods they eat, the amount of exercise and playtime they get, and the family schedule and bedtime routine.

• Ask your doctor about a children’s multivitamin, since most kids aren’t perfect eaters.

• Get enough sleep every night so you can perform your best every day.

Play Safe

Dr. Julian Bailes, M.D., Chair of the Pop Warner Medical Advisory Committee, also has tips on how to participate safely in youth sports:

• The brain is one of the most vital organs in a child’s body. When playing youth sports, brain health must always be top-of-mind. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acid DHA is important in supporting brain development in children and young adults, and may also improve memory and cognitive function. DHA is found in algae and fish, and children should consume at least 200 mg of DHA a day in fatty fish, fortified foods and beverages or with a daily DHA supplement. Remember to check with your healthcare provider before making changes to your diet.

• Vitamin D, along with calcium, is essential for healthy bone development in children and adolescents. Adolescents are the most susceptible to developing vitamin D deficiency, so ensure they eat plenty of vitamin-D-rich foods such as oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms, and get at least 15 minutes a day of sunlight. Vitamin D is also available in an easy-to-take supplement. I recommend school-age children and adolescents take a supplement with about 600 IU daily.

• Stay hydrated. Even on chilly fall and spring training days, drinking plenty of water throughout a sports practice, game or workout is incredibly important. Pack an extra water bottle in your child’s sports bag and have supplies ready in the car to ensure they are getting enough fluid.

• Always wear a helmet and proper safety gear. Whether you are going on a family bike outing or your child is playing youth sports, appropriate safety gear is essential. Be a role model for your children and always practice safety methods like buckling your seat belt, putting on sunscreen and doing a gear check before starting any sports activities.

I encourage all families to “eat smart” by choosing healthy foods and beverages and to “play safe” by stretching, wearing proper equipment and following the rules. We can all inspire one another to live better, healthier lives.

To learn more tips on eating smart and playing safe and to find healthy and nutritious family recipes, visit and check out the “Safety” section.

By Sarah Hasselbeck, mom of three active school-aged children, all-American collegiate athlete and wife of NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.