Kids Don’t Need Snacks in Recreational Sports!

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By blog team member, Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page!


Kids don't need snacks in recreational sports! from 100 Days of #RealFood

Staff Contributor Kiran Dodeja Smith

Eating real food is important to me and just as important for my family. I know firsthand that this is not always easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But as parents, I feel that it’s our job to give our kids the knowledge of what healthy actually means—both in and outside the house.

Our First Soccer Experience

Last fall, my 7 year old joined the local soccer league – a very organized one at that. We’re still in the stage of figuring out where our kids’ talents lie, and for this season, it was soccer. One practice a week and one game on weekends…that I could handle. But the snack situation I could not.

The first game rolled around, and each girl was instructed to bring a water bottle. Super, I thought. They absolutely need hydration. The coach had brought a big bag of oranges, cut and ready to be consumed, which the kids ate during the 45 minute game. Awesome! I loved that they had a sweet, nourishing whole food snack and water to nosh on while taking a breather.

But then when they finished the game and were given a bag of Cheez-It’s and a Capri Sun, I was baffled. Um, really? But what was I going to do, be the mean mom who wouldn’t let my daughter take the snack? (I was not the mean mom this time.)

Shortly thereafter I received a sign-up sheet. Apparently this was going to be the norm. Each parent was to sign up to bring cut oranges for one of the games, and on that same day they were responsible for supplying the snack.

Snacks vs. Soccer

My first issue is this. When it comes to recreational sports for kids, they don’t really need a snack afterwards. If they are fed a good, solid breakfast prior to the game and then they hydrate and eat oranges during, do they really need something else right afterwards?

I’ll admit that I don’t have a degree in sports nutrition, so I reached out to an expert on the subject. Nancy Clark is a registered dietitian and best-selling author who is known for her book, Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. She concurred saying,

“The determining factor is how hard the kids have played. If they have gone all out and done exhaustive exercise or if they will be playing again in 6-8 hours, they need to rapidly refuel. However if they just played a friendly game of soccer and are hungry afterwards, they can go have lunch. Kids bodies are very good at regulating; they know when they are hungry and know to eat when they are. If you put Cheetos in front of them, they will eat them just because…but they’d probably be fine heading home to have lunch.”

I also have an issue with kids getting unnecessary snacks because, once again, I feel that we are programming our kids to think that you always get something when you do something. In this case, the kids were more excited about the snacks than the actual game. Whatever happened to just being proud of playing and feeling good about what you just did? When did we lose this simplicity?

During our soccer season, these are some of the snacks my daughter received:

  • Cheese-Its and Capri Sun
  • Doritos and Gatorade
  • Cheetos and a juice box
  • Chex Mix and a juice box
  • Potato chips and a Gatorade
  • Pretzels (made from refined white flour) and a Powerade

I have to admit that I had angst for a few weeks before it was my turn. As the soccer team was poisoning (Okay, okay. Maybe that’s a strong word. Brainwashing?) my daughter into thinking she’d have these highly processed snacks, what could I bring that would satisfy on all levels? I opted for squeezable applesauce and whole wheat pretzels. And water. For Pete’s sake, what’s wrong with just some water to drink afterwards??!

I had two non-takers; I’m not going to lie. But most left feeling happy, especially my kids (I had brought extra for my three other children). And me. It was a win, and I’m not talking soccer.

Kids don't need snacks in recreatinal sports! from 100 Days of #RealFood

What Can We Do About It?

I realize that I’m not going to change every sports association out there. Though I’m really, really hopeful (hint, hint) that some of you will read this and take action, I’m sure that snacks of some sort will continue. So I’ve included a list of better choices in case you have to sign up for snack duty for your child’s sports. And note that I realize many organizations probably won’t let you make your own goodies to bring, though how great would that be??

Whole Food Snacks

  • Carrot sticks (in baggies*)
  • Apple slices (in baggies*)
  • Mini apples
  • Whole-wheat pretzels
  • Lara Bars
  • Dried whole grain cereal (such as puffed brown rice or organic corn)
  • Bananas
  • Squeezable applesauces
  • Unsweetened applesauce cups
  • Dried dates (in baggies*)
  • Strawberries (whole with tops cut off, in baggies*)
  • Oranges
  • Bags of popcorn made using The Popcorn Trick
  • Small bag of almonds (Trader Joe’s sells these) – not suitable for those with nut allergies
  • Raisins

For more ideas check out our list of 85 snack ideas!
*A great alternative to regular plastic bags are these bio-degradable monster bags.

I’m not the only one who is fired up about this. Sally from Real Mom Nutrition has a great post that includes all the tools you need to be proactive about being a “snactivist” when it comes to sport snacks. School Bites has another great post on the topic.
Please share your thoughts. Have you encountered this? And if so, how did you handle it?
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March 7, 2014 update:
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I am ecstatic to share that I took some of the commenters’ advice. A few of you had suggested not just talking about it, but doing something about it. So I reached out to our local soccer association who was 100% on board with it. They had me put together a letter to go out to all parents regarding the topic, along with suggested snacks (above), though it’s up to the coach to decide whether or not they want to implement a snack rotation. I was sure to suggest oranges and waters for during the game. They also are including this information on their website.
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To be exact, below was their response:

“Thank you for your passion and efforts. Think this is a big issue and will support you in this.”
You can read the entire correspondence with the team here if you’d like.
Thank you for encouraging me to reach out to them – and now it’s your turn to also do so. Together we can make a difference!!
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362 comments to Kids Don’t Need Snacks in Recreational Sports!

  • Natalie

    Thanks for your post. I have a related issue. I recently brought attention to the horrible snacks served in our afterschool program. They say that they pick cookies and graham crackers or pretzels out of convenience and price, but really the kids are eating total crap. I was pissed and now got myself on a parent oriented project to do something about this. Working fast since this is week #2 of crap snacks and I want this to end asap. So glad more and more people are realizing that quality snacking is very important.

  • Joy

    The first day of my son’s flag football practice the coach announced that the boys were old enough to bring there own snacks after games and that they would not be organized by the team. Cheers went up from moms in the crowd. Since then, I have proposed this to other of our coaches and they have been very happy to announce this to their teams. I have found that most moms appreciate this.

  • Ida

    I think this discussion is so interesting. When we moved to the US, I was surprised by all the snacking. Even though most parents where we lived usually would pick relatively healthy snacks, I was surprised by the idea that kids need to eat outside the regular meals. Every time we had activities at school, daycare, outside school (even the piano recital!), we had to bring some kind of snack. It worried me that the kids would learn that you can’t have a special event that doesn’t involve eating.

    We have move back home to Europe, and the kids are back to the eating schedule that I am used to. They seem to be doing fine without the snack, and it’s one less thing for me to worry about when I try to schedule my week.

  • Heather Wedewer

    Thank you for posting this. I too am frustrated with the fact that I have to bring snacks for other peoples kids that probably won’t even eat them! I have posted this on my facebook page to get the word out there!
    Thanks again, I was starting to feel like I was the only one who felt this way.

  • I agree: WE DON’T NEED TO GIVE THEM A SNACK! Parents can feed their kids the way they see fit after the game. The Mom I can’t be is the Mom who while all the other kids are diving in to their Doritoes and Gatorade, pulls her child aways and says, “you can’t have that”. (I understand some need to do that for food allergies.) Our kids aren’t going to say you’re right Mom, dinner is in an hour and this stuff is bad for me. They’re going to be thinking that looks delicious and that’s not fair, I want some too. They’re young children and we can’t expect them to says no, and pass on that kind of junk food because it’s bad for them. I wouldn’t expect that kind of restraint, from young children. So I let my kids partake in the snack, wishing all the while they would just skip the snack!

  • M.B.

    OMG!! My hubby thought I wrote the article because we have been so disgusted with the “snack” thing. We are giving this soccer thing a trial run. Son loves it but I don’t love the “isisms”. “Flavored water, snack, goldfish, blah, blah, blah. Why do we feel kids need to snack all the time. Thank you. I’m breaking out my Nancy Clark Sports Nutiriton book right now from my college athletics days. My snack will be chocolate milk (better than Gatorade for post workout) and apple slices. Besides the week we have snack our game is at 11, shouldn’t everyone be going home for a family lunch. We discreetly don’t eat the snacks provided we go to the car and have our own snack. ;-) (string cheese, apples, banana, milk, nuts ,etc)

  • I have to admit I’m really beginning to resent this whole custom! But, you inspired me to write a letter to the manager of our soccer program and also a letter to the team parents. So far the Soccer manager has replied favorably saying he appreciates my feedback and is considering the program’s position going forward. I figure that is a baby step at least. I didn’t get any reply from the letter to the parents, but the coach did call me mostly to tell me not to use the ‘reply all’ email option. One small win and one lose I guess. I posted both of my letters on my blog, http://clearingmud.wordpress.com in case anyone wants to use them. We’ve got to keep up the good fight!

  • Kiran, thank you so much for this post! My son plays sports through the sports league and I have been struggling with the unhealthy snacks practices that we currently have in place. Parents do not simply given 1 bag with a snack size Cheetos bag and a Capri Sun juice, but rather a bag filled with several snacks! For example, after this morning’s 10AM game, my son was handed a doggie bag that contained 1 Cheetos bag, 1 z bar, 1 fruit roll up, 1 cheese stick and 1 blue gatorade.

    I shared my discontentment with snack practices with other parents in the past and some expressed feeling the same, but I never addressed it. To start, I didn’t know who to talk to–the parks and recs programs coordinator or the volunteer parent coach and second, I didn’t want to be “that parent,” you know, the one that has the complaints. I also felt that whoever I spoke with might not be receptive or they might think I was being bossy.

    Today, however, I spoke up, rather than imagine what others’ perceptions might be and I shared my concerns with the Programs coordinator and guess what? He was very receptive to my concern and ideas. Two points arose from our conversation that I think are worth noting: 1. Cost and convenience plays a role in the types of snacks that parents choose and 2. People at the park, and/or perhaps also other sports associations lack the knowledge to implement snack recommendations to a socio-economically diverse community such as ours.

    Given that this snack issue is close to my heart I volunteered to do a bit of research and write-up a healthy snacks handout, which is how I came upon your super informative blog. And I felt compelled to comment because I wanted to support your call to action. I think sometimes we hold back because we think others will not listen or agree with our concerns, but my example like yours shows that people do care and they do want to hear concerns–changes are they have them too–they probably just don’t know what to do about it.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience and the helpful tips.

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