Healthier Sports Snacks: 4 Tips for Parents
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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?
Image of orange fruit slice via shutterstock.