Does it look like a vending machine exploded on the sidelines of your child’s soccer field, basketball court, or baseball diamond? Team snacks, once limited to orange slices at halftime, are the new normal in many communities, and the usual suspects are foods like cookies, chips, cupcakes, donuts, and gummy fruit snacks (sometimes washed down with sugary punches and sports drinks). Goodies that used to be reserved for end-of-season team parties are now doled out weekly—and it’s all contributing to kids getting too much junk.
There are two common misconceptions when it comes to youth sports snacks. The first is that “it’s just a few cookies”. Unfortunately, treats aren’t the exception anymore for children; they’re the rule. Kids routinely get low-nutrient snacks at places like preschool, camps, and church. Today, the average child takes in about 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day.
The second misconception is that players work hard enough in games to warrant the extra calories. According to research from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the average 8-year-old burns only 150 calories in an hour of sports—but the typical after-game snack can pack in anywhere from 300 to 500 calories.
So what can you do as a parent? Here are four tips:
*Encourage water: Though you’ll see sports drinks all over youth fields on game day, most young athletes simply don’t need them to hydrate. In a 2011 clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that water is the best choice for hydration before, during, and after most exercise—and that sports drinks “offer little to no advantage over plain water.” For regular sports practices and games, any electrolytes lost through sweat can be replaced with the next snack or meal. Besides, an average bottle of sports drink contains multiple forms of added sugar (about 8.5 teaspoons in a 20-ounce bottle), artificial flavor, synthetic food dye, and potassium and sodium—nutrients they could find in foods like a banana and crackers.
*Bring fruit: When it’s your turn to be the “snack parent,” why not bring orange wedges, apples, or bunches of bananas. Fruit is easy, provides some hydration and carbohydrates for energy, and most kids don’t get enough of it on a daily basis. If you need ideas, see my list of 20 Fruit & Veggie Team Snacks (it’s available to print so you can distribute it to coaches and parents).
*Talk to the coach or the league director: If you’re concerned about nutrient-poor team snacks, voice your concerns to the coach or league director. You may even want to suggest a a radical solution—eliminating the snack completely. You can also recommend a new training resource developed for soccer coaches by US Youth Soccer and Healthy Kids Out of School. This free, 12-minute slideshow called “Coaching Healthy Habits,” explains why players should snack smarter, drink water, and move more during practice. And it can be used for any sport, and not just soccer.
*Get organized: Are the other team parents okay with junk food snacks—or are they just going along with it because it’s what everyone seems to do? If enough parents feel the same way, organizing healthier snacks for your child’s team is a no-brainer. For a sample email you can copy, customize, and send to parents on your child’s team, see this story I wrote for Parents called “The Snack Epidemic.
How do you help your child’s team incorporate more nutritious snacks?
While the review found that more physical activity was linked with greater health benefits, even modest amounts of physical activity were shown to have tremendous health benefits in high-risk children (e.g., those who were obese or had high blood pressure). And while moderate physical activity is recommended, vigorous activities also can provide even more health benefits.
The review confirms that although aerobic-based activities like running and biking have the greatest health benefit since they stress the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, high-impact weight bearing activities can benefit kids’ bones.
Although children and parents know it’s vital to incorporate physical activity into their lives, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. That’s why I’m excited about the new ‘For the Love of Play’ campaign.
Launched by Fuel Up to Play 60, the nation’s largest in-school wellness program created by the National Football League and National Dairy Council and in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just the name of the campaign makes being active and fit sound fun and not like a chore that must be done. The goal of the campaign is to encourage not just children, but parents, teachers, and really everyone to get up, get active, and play for at least 60 minutes a day.
The campaign has enlisted the support of Victor Cruz, wide receiver for the New York Giants. I had the pleasure of speaking with Cruz about his own experience and thoughts about getting and staying fit. And who knew he could hula hoop?! Even more reason to love him! Here are some highlights from our interview:
EZ: What are some activities you enjoyed most as a kid?
VC: I grew up on a one-way block, along with seven boys who were all my age. I loved so many sports, and together, my friends and I played everything: dodgeball, baseball, wall ball, basketball, and of course football!
EZ: I read that when you were in college, you—like many student athletes—struggled balancing football with your academic studies. What helped you overcome that, and what would you tell kids who want to succeed both on and off the field/court?
VC: I always say to each his own. We each have our own goals. The key is to take advantage of your talents and passions when you’re young, and to learn to manage your time. You’re only young once, so it’s important to look at the big picture and decide what your goals are and how you’re going to achieve them whether that’s playing a specific sport competitively or studying for a specific career. Sometimes you’ll have to make choices and decisions—like choosing to study that extra hour instead of seeing friends. But if you stay true to yourself and learn to budget your time, and cut back if what you’re doing stresses you out too much, it’ll all work out in the end.
EZ: What are some physical activities you enjoy doing with your daughter?
VC: I spend a lot of time with my daughter and my nephews playing basketball, dancing, walking, or just jumping around. Even in the winter, when it snows, we play football and make snow men. And my daughter loves to make angels in the snow. No matter what the weather, we find something to do to stay active and have fun at the same time.
EZ: What’s your advice for children or adults who get sidelined with injury and can’t be as active as they’d like?
VC: Even if you’re hurt, there are different ways you can move to stay in shape and get some physical activity in. For example, if you hurt your arm, you can still workout your legs, do calisthenics, or walk outside or on a treadmill. Even if you’re sad or distraught by your injury, it’s important to try to continue your passion to lead an active life to stay ahead of the curve and competition (especially if you’re a competitive athlete). You also need to tell the negative voices in your head to stay positive and to keep positive people around you as you heal.
EZ: What excited you about the ‘For the Love of Play’ campaign?
VC: I wanted to get involved because I love helping kids get active. When I was young, I played a ton—mostly outside. Of course that was before video games, which now keep kids inside and on the couch. As a kid, I always wanted to get outside and play—and play hard. So this campaign is a perfect fit for me and gives me a great opportunity to encourage kids and the adults who care for them to get out and play for a total of 60 minutes a day at school, at home, and everywhere in between.
EZ: What are some perks (besides the obvious!) that you’ve derived from being active?
VC: Being active helps me feel more focused and provides me with a positive jump start to my day. Staying active keeps my body in line, and is a catalyst that makes me want to take care of my body and live a healthy lifestyle. It makes me want to not only put positive things (like healthy foods) into my body, but to put out positivity to the rest of the world.
Students, parents, and educators can get more information and learn more about ‘For the Love of Play’ campaign and how to participate in the #LoveOfPlay social media sweepstakes for a chance to win NFL prizes by visitingFuel Up to Play 60.
Check out my previous Scoop on Food post, 11 Tips to Nourish Active Kids, here.
How do you and your kids/students stay fit?
Image of Victor Cruz hula hooping via Greg Tietell.
If you’re frustrated by the recent surge in childhood obesity and the way many kids are fed in this country—fed with loads of empty calorie foods and countless images and messages that tell them to eat (and eat in excess) such foods—the new documentary, Fed Up, sheds light on possible contributors and solutions. Debuting at a theater near you on May 9th, 2014, Fed Up will likely get a ton of press and will no doubt stimulate a lot of discussion about who’s to blame and what we can do as a nation and individually to turn the tide on obesity and raise healthier children.
Directed by Stephanie Soechtig and co-produced by TV-personality Katie Couric (also the narrator) and Oscar-winning advocate and author, Laurie David, Fed Up aims to “change the way you eat forever.” On it’s website, a description of the movie claims that “Everything we’ve been told about food and exercise for the past 30 years is dead wrong. Fed Up is the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see.”
As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I was fortunate to get an early glimpse of Fed Up. It’s very well done and features many credible experts (though I was disappointed to see that no registered dietitian nutritionists—many of whom are on the front lines working with children and families to help them eat and live better—were featured). The film also offers hope for the future and provides some sensible suggestions to help families eat better (eg by cutting added sugars) and move in a more healthful direction.
Fed Up argues against the concepts “a calorie is a calorie,” “energy balance” (calories in equals calories out) and “you are what you eat” and that individuals are to blame for becoming obese. It also argues that the common advice to “eat less, move more” just doesn’t work. The movie also claims that current federal dietary guidelines are heavily influenced by industry and aren’t effective in helping children and families eat more healthfully. Fed Up also points a finger at excessive sugar intake—and the sugar industry—as main contributors to the current high rates of obesity and associated health and other problems faced by many of today’s children. The movie also blames intense marketing of nutrient-poor, high calorie, high fat, high sugar foods for unhealthy, excessive eating habits among our children and the subsequent effects of those habits on health and body weight.
Although many points made in Fed Up are valid, I do support current science-based Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Unfortunately, many children (and also adults) don’t follow (or have trouble) following these guidelines. Perhaps they’re too idealistic and seem too difficult to follow, especially in the midst of an environment that supports 24/7 eating and inactivity. Whatever the reason, Fed Up isn’t wrong when it says what what we’re doing on a national level thus far has done little to help our kids get healthier and achieve and maintain better body weights.
I encourage you to see Fed Up with your children (I plan to take mine). At the very least, it will stimulate discussion about what and how our country eats, why we eat that way, and how we can do better. Although the movie fails to mention or highlight the amazing work being done across the country by registered dietitian nutritionists to help children and families eat better (visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to learn more about what RDNs do and how we can help you and your family and community), it provides some hope for a future of healthy eating for our kids and families everywhere.
I asked co-producer Laurie David a few questions about Fed Up. Here’s what she had to say.
EZ: Why did you feel compelled to get involved with this film? Was there one specific impetus or were there many factors that led you to want to shed light on the obesity epidemic among children?
LD: The idea for the film started with Katie Couric. She had been covering stories of diet and exercise her whole career and was completely baffled as to why the problems kept getting worse. Fed Up is a result of three years of research, interviews and film making to come up with some answers.
EZ: Even though few people actually follow current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, do you agree that they’re a good place to start to help people move in the direction of eating better? If not, what small steps do you suggest that families to take to move in the direction of eating better?
LD: I think everyone is confused by all the misinformation out there. I am for simplifying everything. So here is the simple answer: eat real food, cook it yourself and enjoy it with your family. Another important step is to stop buying drinks, sodas and juices and to drink water with every meal—that will give you the great and healthy habit of craving water with food.
EZ: Given that food companies aren’t going to change the food options they provide to consumers or their marketing practices (especially to children) anytime soon, how do you suggest parents minimize the influences of these on their personal habits and on the habits of their kids?
LD: I think that marketing and advertising directly to children is immoral. I hope that after seeing Fed Up, parents will make some noise about this problem. In the meantime, parents have to debunk advertising by talking about it with their kids, pointing it out every time they see it and complaining loudly to get all branding and marketing out of our schools and in YMCAs, on Nickelodeon and in/on other places kids visit.
EZ: What are the top 2-3 take-home lessons of Fed Up for families?
LD: That processed foods are unhealthy, that nutrition labels are purposely deceiving and the only people who have your families health and well being in mind is YOU. That is why it is so important that we stop outsourcing to strangers (corporations) the most important and intimate thing we do which is feeding ourselves and our families.
Image of Fed Up movie poster via Radius-TWC.
What do you think is to blame for obesity and unhealthy habits in kids? How do you think we can/will solve the problem?
With the Sochi Olympics in full swing, what better time to provide top tips from a few nutrition pros to help active kids meet their nutrient needs?
Although a 2013 JAMA Pediatricsstudy that looked at national survey data of more than 1200 children aged 6 to 11 found that 70% of them met federal Physical Activity Guidelines—at least 60 minutes daily of moderate- to vigorous intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking or running)—you likely have or know plenty of kids who spend more than seven hours a week participating in organized sports and other competitive activities including ranging from basketball, baseball, crew, soccer, dance and swimming to gymnastics, cheerleading, wrestling, tennis and squash.
While all this activity is great for our kids’ hearts and other muscles, staying fueled and energized with nutritious foods and beverages is essential to help them perform their best—not only on the field or on the court, but in the classroom too. As sports nutritionist Tara Gidus says, “You wouldn’t think of letting your kids play football without a helmet, right? Just like they need the right equipment on the field, they need the right nutrition to support their activities on and off the field.”
Whether your kids are going for gold, or simply engaging in various physical activities for the fun of it, here are 11 tips from Gidus and five other top RDs to help them nourish their active lifestyles.
Batter up with breakfast. While it may sound cliché, children who eat breakfast get better nutrition overall than those who skip this vital first meal. Eating a nutritious and filling breakfast may also help kids keep their cool even when other players, parents, coaches or referees lose theirs. If you’re short on ideas beyond that usual bowl of cereal, here are 20 breakfast ideas.
Eat like a champ. Kids can fuel their active muscles well beyond breakfast by having lunches and dinners that provide carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Some ideas for lunch and dinner include a turkey breast sandwich on whole grain bread with avocado, sliced and spread (or a bit of mayonnaise) and a piece of fruit or half the sandwich with a bowl of low-sodium vegetable soup; peanut butter and jelly on whole-wheat bread, a banana and cup of nonfat milk; cold pasta salad with deli turkey slices; whole-wheat pasta with lean beef meatballs and marinara sauce; or salmon served with quinoa and spinach.
Power up with produce. Eating fruits and vegetables boosts kids’ immune systems to help them stay healthy and active. Let them pick out a few of their favorites—like carrots, broccoli, asparagus, grapes, watermelon, strawberries or bananas—each week at the grocery store, and offer small amounts of these and others you buy at each meal and snack. Getting kids involved in grocery shopping and giving them a say empowers them, helps them take ownership of what they eat and also helps them meet their daily quota for produce.
Snack smart. Like meals, snacks should provide carbohydrate—the main energy kids’ brains and body needs—and some healthy fat and protein. Examples include whole-grain graham crackers with peanut butter; an apple or other fruit of choice with low-fat string cheese; reduced or low fat cottage cheese topped with cinnamon and chopped pears; cucumbers with hummus, nuts (like cashews or almonds) and a clementine; Pistachio Chewy Bites (a combination of whole pistachios and dried cranberries); or a container of low fat or nonfat Greek yogurt, a natural beef jerky and a piece of fruit (like watermelon or an apple). Fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit also work well in snack-time smoothies.
Change the rules after school. Calling an “afternoon snack” a “second lunch” instead can help kids think more about having a sandwich, burrito, bowl of cereal, hummus and carrots on pita or other “real food.” It can also reduce their intake of so-called snack foods like candy, chips and cookies. Having a hearty second lunch can also help kids be less hungry for dinner—but that’s OK because they’ll be better fueled when they need it most for afternoon play and sports.
Milk it after practice. Low fat flavored milk—like Organic chocolate milk—has a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein; that makes it a smart choice for athletes recovering from a long practice or event. Shelf-stable single serving portions are available and make a great recovery beverage within 30 minutes of practice or competition.
Move meals. Don’t be afraid to move mealtimes. Young athletes spend the entire day in school and often come home hungry. Rather than waiting until 6 PM for a full meal, consider moving mealtime to earlier in the day. Depending on the age of the child, kids often benefit from two dinners—one after school and one three or four hours later.
Don’t forget fluids. It’s always key to make sure active kids stay hydrated throughout the day. Send your child to school or sports with a water bottle. If you know they’ll be playing for more than an hour or hour and a half, it’s OK to give them a sports drink to prevent dehydration and providing essential electrolytes. The fluid paired with the fuel from food will keep them hydrated and energized.
Make a mini-cooler a must. Young athletes are often on the go; that means food is as well. Think of a mini cooler as part of your equipment and make sure the kids have one to take to practice and to sporting events to help them stay nourished and at the same time keep food safe for consumption.
Boost their energy at half time. To nourish, hydrate and cool off sweaty kids, offer orange slices, grapes and/or strawberries at half time. Or they can sip on a water bottle with fruits like orange slices, cut strawberries, and raspberries throughout the game.
Fuel often—but not excessively. It’s important to keep kids fueled at regular intervals. Because many children, especially younger ones, get so engaged in what they are doing and don’t always want to stop to eat, it’s important to build in breaks to refuel. At the same time, parents should be mindful about how much kids are eating in relation to their activity level. It’s easy to think that kids need a lot more calories if they’re being active, but unless kids are participating in competitive athletics for several hours on most days, most kids take in enough calories during the day to offset their exercise.
If you’re a regular reader of The Scoop on Food, you know that most of my posts are focused on kids’ nutrition and health. For the last seven months during which I’ve had the privilege of writing this Parents blog, I’ve covered topics ranging from fast food and food safety to cutting back on empty calories and simply helping kids eat better. While the intent of this blog has always been—and will continue to be—providing you with up-to-date nutrition, diet, fitness and health information that empowers you to raise healthy and fit kids, in the words of Barry Manilow I decided that this one’s for you.
If you’re like many parents, you make New Year’s resolutions. Of course the road to making these declarations about how you’ll eat better, move more or kick a bad habit to the curb is often paved with good intentions. But no matter what those intentions are—to lose a few pounds, to enhance heart health, to reduce blood sugar or blood cholesterol level or to simply fit better into clothing—our kids see and hear about what we do, for better or worse, and internalize the messages of those actions.
Although some experts aren’t a big fan of making New Year’s resolutions, I see absolutely nothing wrong with using January 1st as a start day to turn that intention to join a gym (or to simply get to the gym more often), to eat more fruits and vegetables or to quit a vice (like that usual late-night pantry raid, that sipping all day on soda habit, or that habit of mindlessly grazing on empty-calorie foods) into action. But I’m a big advocate of framing those resolutions in a positive way. If we say to our kids, “I’m trying to help my heart work better,” or “I want to have more energy” they’re more likely to see our changes as proactive and productive ones. We will too! If, on the other hand, we frame resolutions in negative ways by saying things like, “I hate the way I look and need to get into shape once and for all,” or “I need to lose all that weight I gained over the holidays” to justify or explain our actions in front of or to our kids, the message we’re likely sending to our kids (even though that’s not our intent) is that these healthier habits—eating certain so-called “healthy” foods or exercising—is some sort of punishment for our failures.
When we as parents make resolutions that include going on some sort of popular or restrictive diet (here’s a roundup of several from 2013 according to this USNews.com), it’s important to think twice about doing so—after all, losing weight, if that means losing our health along the way, doesn’t really make sense, now does it? But it’s also important for us to be mindful about the messages those resolutions and the subsequent eating habits we practice send to our kids. For example, if we encourage our children to eat more fruits and vegetables but, at the same time, we eliminate certain fruits from our own diets, or if we give our children whole grain cereal, pasta and potatoes with their meals but ban these or other carbohydrate-rich foods (not for legitimate health or medical reasons but because it’s required by the new diet we’re following), what message does that send our kids about what comprises a healthful diet? Seems like a mixed message to me.
Parents are people too. Sometimes we are going to eat and live differently than our kids for one reason or another. And because we’re grown-ups we really don’t need to justify any of our actions to our kids. But because one of our goals as parents is to raise kids who eat well (at least most of the time) and who are active and fit and feel good about themselves, shouldn’t we try to do the same ourselves in order to set a positive example? Nourishing, caring for and respecting ourselves by making realistic and science-based behavior changes that we can maintain long-term helps us set a far healthier example to our kids than constant dieting or starting and stopping our gym membership or active lifestyle. Won’t finding a lifestyle that unites us rather than divides us from our families help us be better role models for our kids, especially little ones who are so impressionable?
My wish for all parents in the New Year is that when you make New Year’s resolutions they include small goals that encourage you to take small steps rather than big ones that require you to completely overhaul your diet and life. All those tiny tweaks will add up over time to help you achieve and maintain a healthier, happier and more vibrant you. You may think that slow and steady is boring and trite, but in the end it ultimately does win the race. None of us is perfect, and we will all make mistakes and will continue to when caring for ourselves and when raising our kids. But trying to live and show our kids a more moderate and sensible approach to eating and living well will likely pay long-term dividends for the whole family. When we show our children that we can create realistic resolutions that morph into sensible and sustainable behaviors that help our clothes fit us more comfortably, that help our abs be leaner or our biceps stronger or help us simply have more energy to play ball or dance with our kids, they’ll likely internalize—and may even try to mimic—those better-for-you behaviors. How’s that for a healthy start to a New Year?
How do you model healthy habits—and provide positive messages—to your children?