Talking Nutrition With Ultimate Hockey Mom Linda Staal

With hockey season back in full force, thousands of Canadian families are looking for diets for their children which are not only convenient but healthy as well. The Quakerbrand has set out to get hockey families on the right track, inspiring them to start each day with the whole grain goodness of 100 per cent Canadian Oats.

The Staals (L to R Marc, Eric, Henry, Linda, Jordan and Jared)
Photo Courtesy of Linda Staal

On behalf of Quaker Oats Canada, Linda Staal (mother of NHLers Eric, Jordan, Marc and AHLer Jared) is currently on a cross-Canada tour leading the charge along with Montreal-based Registered Sports Dietitian and former hockey player, Pearle Nerenberg.

While Ms. Nerenberg has been discussing the importance of fueling the body with the proper nutrition before playing sports like hockey and why Quaker Oats are such a great choice, Linda Staal has been sharing her “Hockey Mom Survival Tips” in addition to sharing her own personal stories about the challenges and proud moments of raising four superstar athletes. I had the chance to talk with Linda about the tour, the importance of proper nutrition and of course her boys.

“It started with a good breakfast of Quaker oatmeal and then getting the boys off to school, hopefully on time,” Linda explaining a typical day in the Staal household. “After that, my husband Henry and I would plan our day and determine which parent was going to what hockey game/practice with which child. I would take two and Henry would take two. Once school was over all the morning planning would spring into action with everyday being as busy as the last and on weekends it was crazy.”

Asking what they were doing when they weren’t playing hockey, Mrs. Staal got right to the point on behalf of her sons.

“It was hockey all the time. If they weren’t playing league hockey then they would be on our outdoor rink playing shinny or in the basement playing rollerblade hockey or upstairs playing mini-stick hockey.”

While hard work and determination kept the Staal boys focused on their ultimate dream of playing in the National Hockey League, it was a healthy diet that helped pave the way to their dreams from Quaker oatmeal to the aforementioned Hockey Mom Survival Kit. In terms of food, the kit includes, “Instant Quaker oatmeal, Quaker granola bars, fruit and yogurt,” Linda told me, in addition to “a kettle to make oatmeal on the road, a blanket and a pillow to bring along the comforts of home.”

Linda admitted that she raised her sons on Quaker oatmeal, usually by itself, reasoning, “It would have more than enough nutritious energy to get them through the morning regardless of what they were doing.” For dinner, Linda would make sure her boys were eating foods with significant sources of Vitamin D including potatoes, vegetables and fish, which, now as grown men, the Staal boys have made an important staple of their everyday diet.

While Linda did allow her young sons to munch on so-called junk food every once in a while she was adamant on keeping them on a healthy diet overall, especially on game days.

As far as the financial side goes, while Linda didn’t have any exact numbers, she estimated her annual costs on her four sons at approximately $15,000. As for affording four children to play organized hockey for so many years, Linda gave it to me straight.

”We didn’t pay anything down on the mortgage, we drove a beat up minivan, we purchased used hockey equipment and we worked hard and tried not to even think about it. Plus we received a lot of help from local businesses through sponsorships.”

As previously mentioned, Linda is currently on tour with the aforementioned Pearle Nerenberg, Linda discussed her time thus far with the hockey player-turned-dietitian.

“It has been a great experience. Pearle reinforced some of the things we instinctively knew and did at home with the boys – like starting the day off with a nutritious breakfast and know that oatmeal is good for you,” Linda told me. “I did learn more about ‘why’ oatmeal is a nutritious option for athletes – it’s made with whole grains, a source of energy and fibre and keeps you feeling full longer.”

So far, Linda and Pearle have visited Calgary, Montreal, Barrie, Kitchener, Hamilton, Mississauga and most recently right here in Toronto.

“The various stops in each city have been a great experience and hopefully we’ve been able to share with Canadians the important message of nutritious energy with Quaker oatmeal and how it goes a long way in helping a child and an athlete perform to their highest capabilities.”

I asked Linda if she had any advice for parents looking to put multiple children into organized hockey as well any routines or habits to recommend or steer away from. Linda had quite a bit of advice to offer all hockey parents out there, whether they are mothers and fathers of one, two or five:

  • Make time for family meals: a nutritious family breakfast with oatmeal helped fuel the busy day ahead and helped us connect as a family
  • Be positive as much as possible. Don’t judge success by the scoreboard.
  • Pack a hockey survival kit for tournament weekends
  • Respect the coaches as a parent. Your respect for the coaches usually rubs off on the children.
  • Enjoy the ride.
  • Be as organized as possible.
  • Try not to coach from the stands or undo what the coaches are trying to accomplish.
  • Being a good listener is sometimes more important than trying to be a critic – especially right after a game.  I think people would be surprised about how little Henry and I actually talked about the boys’ games as they grew up. But if they wanted to talk about any situation we would be there for them lending an encouraging ear.

With the Staals now grown men and organizing their own routines in terms of nutrition, Linda was proud to point out that all four boys have become more educated about healthy eating, improving their diets as high-performance athletes.

While the Staals do share a common bond in terms of diet, they also keep in touch with each regularly. Being that they both play with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, Eric and Jordan certainly don’t have any trouble communicating barring a on-ice slipup by one of the two – of course given the skill level of both, that rarely happens if at all. Jared, the youngest Staal, plays in nearby Charlotte with the American Hockey League’s Checkers while Marc is enjoying the pressure, not to mention the bright lights, of Broadway as he is a staple on the New York Rangers’ defensive unit.

With three of them selected in the first round of the draft, two of them owners of Stanley Cup rings, the Staal boys have a lot to be proud of thus far and while Jared has yet to play in the NHL, he is realistic but confident that he can one day make it to the NHL. He has a good understanding of what it takes to get there and while he is thrilled for his brothers, he’s simply not content to let the opportunity of joining them pass him by even though he is enjoying his AHL career right now.

Like any hockey family, the quest to see your children not only play the game they love but to hopefully one day fulfill every Canadian kid’s dreaming of playing in the NHL takes a plethora of determination, resilience, discipline, sacrifice and, what Linda and Pearle have been stressing especially, a proper nutritious diet.

Like any children pursuing their dreams, the Staals boys had more than enough days where they felt discouraged. With the proper guidance, support and nutrition, they were all able to stick to their goals and ultimately, it has paid off.

Breakfast may indeed be the most important meal of the day but as the ultimate hockey mom Linda Staal has proven four times over, breakfast is also the most important meal of a long-lasting hockey career.

Topics: Eating Healthy, Eric Staal, Jared Staal, Jordan Staal, Linda Staal, Marc Staal, Nutrition, Pearle Nerenberg, Quaker Oats

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