Healthy eating for the entire family: A chat with RD and pro triathlete Kim Schwabenbauer

Kim Finish 2

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

I’m often asked about nutrition. I guess it’s because I’m a triathlete and that causes people to assume I also eat wisely. While I think I make good decisions more often than not, I’m also guilty of “I earned it” eating. A lot of triathletes fall victim to that mindset: we figure we put in the miles, so what is it going to hurt to devour an entire pizza, or my personal favorite, an entire pan of hot chocolate chip cookies.

I want to do better. And because I’ve been asked by other parents who are involved in triathlon how to eat healthy, and also feed a family, I reached out to an expert.

Kim Schwabenbauer is a Registered Dietician. She’s also a professional triathlete. As an amateur she won her age group at St. Croix 70.3 and then won the overall woman’s amateur titles at Ironman Cozumel in 2010 and Ironman Lake Placid in 2011. In 2012 she turned professional and was 10th place among the professional woman at Ironman Arizona, among a star-studded field.

She also coaches triathletes to blend proper training and sound nutrition to be their best. I had a chance to chat with her recently, so I asked her about the nutrition part of the endurance equation – and how to manage that with a family. Enjoy my conversation with Kim Schwabenbeuer.


Chad: All triathletes are busy, juggling work and training in most cases. Mix a marriage and kids into the equation and “busy” doesn’t really cover it. We eat on the go too often running from home to work to training session and home. What are a few practical steps athletes can take to eat healthy on the go?


Kim: Planning, planning, planning (a little pre-preparation)!  Every one of us is pretty good about laying out the equipment we need to go on a long bike and making sure our goggles or running shoes are packed for a workout.  Why is it that we leave our nutrition out of this equation!


FIVE MINUTES.  That’s all I’m asking…five little minutes of planning for the next day and ten minutes on the weekend.  Spend your ten minutes on the weekend making a list of three meals you can have during the week using the SAME main ingredients for each.  If you can buy a large package of chicken breasts (fresh or frozen) and then plan three dinner meals around that such as baked chicken, chicken tortillas and Chicken Marsala with a steamed vegetable side and salad is the way to go!  Eating at home is much healthier than going out (for the most part) and you can lighten up saturated fat and keeping sodium down while you’re cooking makes it a healthier option.


Another huge time saver is to do a make ahead breakfast with PROTEIN such as an egg frittata with lots of veggies.  One muffin pan tin can produce up to 24 muffins!  Freeze ¾’s and keep the rest in your fridge to microwave on high for 20 seconds right before you head out the door to eat in your car or bring it to your desk at work to chow down!  


Use your 5 minutes the day before to go over what you’ll bring with you in terms of snacks, pre-bag veggies for snacks.

Ironman AZ Bike 1


Chad: I find that at our house it gets hectic at dinner time. We’re sometimes rushing from place to place. We have 3 kids, all of whom are very active and involved. That’s a pretty common scenario for the average triathlete. What are a few ways families like ours can slow down for a healthy meal that meets the needs of the triathlete in the house and satisfies everyone else too?


Kim: Making the family dinner time somewhat sacred is so so important to not only forming good communication and connecting with our family members, but it’s also a perfect way for parents to demonstrate healthy eating behaviors for children.  Again, good planning before the week begins will allow you to identify which days will work to sit down between practices and training sessions and when


Introducing healthy foods as early as possible also helps to show that the whole family will be eating the same thing (for the most part) and there will not be separate meals prepared for children vs. adults.  Children will need smaller portions than the adults depending on their age and activity requirements as they grow.  Offer about one tablespoon of food for each year of your child’s age.  For example, a 3-year-old needs only three tablespoons of sweet potatoes on his or her plate. If there is something new on the plate (such as a new recipe being tried or a new vegetable), a good idea is to tell them they must have three bites before they can refuse the item. 

Grabbed Frame 20


Chad: What are your suggestions for fueling for a long workout/race without leading your family down a path to a carb loading frenzy as well?


Kim: Most of us are overdoing it by quite a bit in this area of grain based carbohydrates!  Your two hour bike tomorrow does not require 3 cups of cooked pasta to get prepared.  So, keep that in mind as you read my response!


Fruits and vegetables are also primarily carbohydrate-based so they are wonderful ways to make sure your liver is stored up with glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate) and ready to go for a long bike ride the next day.  In a race situation, you do want to keep things lighter with less fiber / less vegetables starting at noon the day prior.  With this said, doing your own thing and explaining the “why” portion to your family is totally acceptable and you can use the opportunity to teach a little nutrition science and physiology while trying to convince your kids you ARE in fact cool and you DO in fact know what you are doing!



Chad: Do you have suggestions for teaching kids benefits of healthy eating without being overbearing or strict? I want my kids to enjoy childhood, but I would also like for them to learn the benefits of healthy nutrition.


Kim: We’ve all heard the saying, like Mother like daughter or like Father like son.  This is our first line of attack!  If they see you doing it (eating fruits and vegetables, preparing food in a healthy way), and liking it, they will try more healthy items and like them. That’s your first line of offense! 


Your second is “making it fun”.  Does it take a bit of time, YES!  After awhile you won’t even notice that you are putting a bit more effort into making healthy choices fun because it will be the staple in your household.  For example, dried fruits and nuts and seeds are great for lunches, as well as yogurt and cubes of cheese with different chopped vegetables. Use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes out of sandwiches.  Kids like anything they can handle and dip!  Make that a priority to have those things on hand and available for the usual “MOOMMMM/DAADDDDD, I’m hungry!” 


Involve your children in the preparation, removing the kale leaves from the stalk with their hands or peeling an orange.  You can talk about the benefits of the vitamins and minerals in that food, while you’re teaching them life-long cooking skills!


Finally, explore different taste sensations as a family.  One idea is to buy a new spice and try it out.  What is the consensus?  Love it or not so much?  Allow your children to explore the sweet, savory, bitter, and sour tastes of different foods.  Introducing new tastes and smells will encourage food exploration.  Before you know it, healthy food choices will be a part of all of your lives!

Colorful Veggies of all types


Chad: It’s expensive for families to eat healthy, right?


Kim: Actually, it can be cheaper and less complicated than preparing food out of a box!  Keeping your pantry and refrigerator stocked with healthy, inexpensive items is key!  What we really have to look at is being smart, prepping food, and taking a bit of time to plan.  After the Holidays an entire turkey may be on sale.  It would be a great idea to prepare, slice it, freeze some of it and have some on hand.  It’s cheaper AND doesn’t have the preservatives / nitrates of the store bought sliced type, but the key is time! 


Some things to have around at all times if you can that are basic AND inexpensive: 1% milk, butter, eggs, apples, bananas, lemons, corn, green beans, potatoes, lettuce, garlic, onions, flour, honey, salt, oats, dried beans, nuts, a block of cheese, a whole chicken or turkey, etc.


Chad: Favorite quick breakfast?


Kim: Egg Frittatas – Make these babies ahead and eat them with fruit for breakfast all week!  Love them!


Chad: Brown bag lunch at the office?


Kim: Make ahead salad ( reference:, Banana with almond butter & a piece of dark chocolate for dessert!


Chad: Dinner with limited prep time?
Kim: Quinoa and Black Beans

Chad: Shake recipe?


  • Frozen berries 1 cup
  • ¼ cup greek yogurt (plain, lowfat)
  • Scoop of protein powder
  • Tsp. tart cherry juice
  • 3 oz. orange juice
  • 3 oz. organic 1% milk


BLEND IT!  YUM! Smoothie packed with great micronutrients and protein / fiber!


I hope you enjoyed meeting Kim. I think we’re going to hear more from her on the professional triathlon scene  in the next few years. You can follow her on her blog, on twitter, and on Facebook.

I love you,

– Daddy