Dance Health

High Energy Snacks for Your Young Dancer

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
of The Centre for Dance Nutrition.

As a mom and a nutritionist I am all too aware of studies showing snacks contribute to better concentration, better memory recall, and help kids stay on task1,2.  Students who have regularly scheduled snacks and who don’t go for more than 3 hours without eating, even something small, have decreased anxiety and were reported to be more happy and alert1,2.  I see it in my own kids, but it really hits home to me as a ballet teacher when I have a group of kids late in the afternoon and some of them are clearly fatigued or out of sorts.  An informal poll of my young ballet students showed me that several of them don’t eat anything at all between lunch time and ballet class which can start as late as 5:45pm.  Their concentration, attitude, and motivation are clearly impacted. Take the time to work with your kids to plan and shop for healthy snacks so that they are quick and available at home to grab and go or throw in a dance bag the night before.  Let your kids pick out fruits and veggies at the store and engage them in washing and food prep.  A little planning can make a big difference in your child’s dance class experience.

Another concern is added ingredients. Certain ingredients in foods such as dyes, artificial flavors, additives, and preservatives like sodium benzoate have been shown to affect hyperactivity, concentration and mood3.   With these and renewed concerns over genetically modified foods affecting developing children, it’s not just sugar that is the villain anymore.  As a busy parent myself, I understand all too well how challenging healthy snacks can be so here are some ideas and my dancers’ favorite recipe:

Choose complex carbohydrates with low to moderate protein/ fat for a pre-dance snack. Expect a small snack to last 2-3 hours of dancing. If your dancer is going to be at the studio longer than that, pack two snacks or a small meal.

  1. 1 banana with 1-2 tbsp peanut butter
  2. 1 cup sweet red pepper slices or carrots with 3 tbsp hummus and some pumpkin seeds
  3. Sunbutter or almond butter and honey sandwich on organic spelt bread
  4. 14 almonds and 1 large apple or 1 cup of grapes
  5. ½  cup granola and non-GMO soy yogurt
  6. Shelled edamame or tofu cubes with rice, veggies and soy sauce (make ahead of time and serve cold)
  7. Hardboiled egg or string cheese with 5-10 whole grain or rice crackers
  8. 6oz low fat yogurt (can substitute for soy or coconut yogurt)
  9. Homemade almond milk smoothie with frozen berries, peaches, and flax seeds. (Make a large batch ahead of time and freeze in small grab and go containers)
  10. Pre-made bar or oatrolls (see below) with fruit, dates, nuts and/or whole grains. (Make a large batch and freeze, then put frozen oatrolls in his/her dance bag in the morning so by the afternoon they are thawed and yummy.)

Many children these days have an intolerance or allergy to dairy and gluten. Registered dietitian Colleen McCarthy RD with On Pointe Nutrition knows firsthand how hard it can be to dance “in a fog of gluten intolerance”.  Here are our recommendations for gluten free/dairy free kids:

  1. Apple salad: apples, walnuts, pecans, raisins
  2. Hummus with brown rice crackers or raw carrots/squash/zucchini/sweet peppers.
  3. Soy/coconut yogurt with flaxseed or chia seeds, fresh blueberries or strawberries and 1tbsp of almond butter- mix it up.
  4. Nut/seed mix: almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, raisins, pecan, brazil nuts, dried pineapple
  5. Banana with almond, cashew, or sunbutter
  6. Coconut water, dark chocolate almond milk or coconut milk
  7. Rice cakes with nut butter and a piece of fruit
  8. Oatmeal with flax seeds or a homemade oatrolls (see recipe)
  9. Popcorn, pumpkin seeds, GF pretzels, and dried fruit trail mix

Easy Almond Oat Energy Rolls
(makes approximately 20 rolls)

  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats (regular)
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 Tbs. raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Grind 1/2 cup oats and 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds in food processor until powdery. Transfer to medium bowl; set aside.

Combine remaining 2 cups oats, remaining 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, raisins, sunflower seeds and cinnamon in large bowl. Stir in almond butter, honey, and vanilla until soft dough forms.

Moisten hands, and roll dough into 1-inch balls. Coat balls in oat-pumpkin seed powder.

Emily Harrison
Dance nutritionistEmily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at

1. Physiology & Behavior Volume 90, Issues 2-3, 28 February 2007, Pages 382-385
2. A mid-morning snack improves memory but not attention or psychomotor speed in school-age children in India Appetite. Volume 47, Issue 2, September 2006, Page 262

Photo (top): © Guille Faingold |

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