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?
March 7, 2014 update:
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.

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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351 comments to Kids Don’t Need Snacks in Recreational Sports!

  • Kay

    My son is 10 and plays football, he’s on both offense and defense and usually plays the entire game. I’m team mom so organizing after game snacks is my job. I tried fruit, real yogurt and Gatorade3. The boys were still starving you all have any suggestions for kids a little older playing a bit longer? Our parents pitch in money and I provide the weekly snacks. They are actually hungry afterwards and ready to put some energy back in their bodies after games.

  • Sarah

    My boys play tackle football and they have a snack during half time and a snack after the game. However as parents we are instructed to bring them healthy snacks, nothing packed with sugar or anything like that. For them, I feel snacks are important they are working hard and it’s hot out and they are in all the equipment. However I don’t see what is wrong with serving healthy snacks, why serve chips after a game, that’s not going to do them any good when it comes to replacing what their body needs.

  • sherry

    My sons played first rec soccer, then went on to higher levels. As adolescents, several of their coaches and trainers were British or from the Caribbean. They were pretty emphatic, (some mothers called them “rabid”) about no snacking, but lots and lots of hydration. Gatorade was available near the bench, always lots of water as well. They did like for parents to keep orange slices and bananas on hand, but that was mostly in case it was very hot. Coaches wanted the fruit handy for potassium replenishment to prevent muscle cramps.
    These were pre-teen and teenage boys, but honestly, they were so hot and so spent after games, the suggestion of a snack of any kind usually caused gagging to begin! After they had twenty or thirty minutes to cool off, yes, they would have eaten the car seat if nothing else was available. That was sometimes difficult, as soccer tournaments at that level are often held in Nowhere, USA, but coaches preached salad bars and pasta with vegetables and chicken, so most of the players would eat bananas, oranges and cheese and hold out til we found a source of relatively decent nutrition.
    My experiences were with boys, but I often had the chance to watch girls playing at that level and their moms would tell me that the girls coaches had pretty much the same ideas about player eating habits.

  • Kelli Moore

    Can I just say that this is not limited to sport snacking? I get really frustrated with SCHOOL snacking. Our school demands that our children eat TWO snacks during the day — one before lunch and one after lunch. They are only at school for 6 hours and have a 30 minute recess, with gym time every 9 days. It’s really ridiculous. We’re tuition students, so my husband won’t let me make a scuffle, but I find it silly that even with a HEALTHY snack that we’re just telling our children to eat all the time. It’s excessive. They don’t eat like that at home over the summer. And I agree with the sport snacks. Thankfully, my oldest is in a traveling league that plays really hard and snacks very healthy. It seems the rec sports are the ones that are the worst for playing less and snacking the worst. We let our kids do it, but dock their lunch accordingly. We are the mean parents. :(

    • Kiran Dodeja Smith

      LOL – Kelli Moore I am a mean parent with you then, as well. I’m so over the preschool snacks/food for rewards for good first days of school, etc. My daughter is in kindergarten and yesterday they played bingo. You can guess the prizes – candy bracelets and other candies. Seriously??!

  • Angie

    My kids participate with rec football and cheer every fall. It’s our policy that our players only have water to drink and fresh fruit as a snack at halftime. I think it depends on the parents involved.

  • Susan

    Our soccer season is set up so that there are only Saturday games, so my kids typically play 2 games with a half hour break between them. That said, our league believes it is the role of the parents to make food choices for their families. Each year we get a letter explaining that we should bring a 300-400 calorie mini-meal for our kids for the space between the games. We always bring a nice big snack/lunch. Usually hummus and red pepper pinwheels, an apple, a yogurt with some raisins and granola and a really big water. My kids really need that refuel. The 2 times we skimped (the first game days of the first 2 years–we are now in the swing of this soccer thing!) they were drained by the end of game 2.

  • Lynn

    At our rec league, there is a concession stand at the field where the kids play. Parents take turns providing the snacks, but most often they only pay the concession stand which allows all the kids to get a slushie (made from CHEERWINE!!!) and a bag of Doritos. It drives me NUTS. Some of the games are at 9am, so by 10am the kids are having soda and chips. I usually bring in bananas and water when it’s my turn, but I hear a lot of grumbling from the kids (and parents) when I do.

  • rachel

    It is a good point that it teaches food is a reward when you get junk food after a game. But I do believe in ‘recovery foods’ my husband is a runner and there are certain recovery foods he eats AFTER a run.
    You should also add sweet potatoes to your list of snacks. My daughter loves them! We skin and cut them up into bite size pieces then bake them tossed in some olive oil (we live in germany right now so we get fresh local and from italy that we pick up on our trips down there)
    Also, for school snacks/lunch I give my daughter a medley of fresh pineapple chunks, strawberries, blueberries, grapes and apple slices. I scoop a large serving spoonful of plain yogurt on top and drizzle w/ honey.
    And we do that for breakfast or other snacks too, cup of yogurt and some cascade farm organic honey granola, then i drizzle w/ a couple of lines of honey on top.
    or do the yogurt granola blueberry strawberry and honey drizzle.
    the possibilities are many!!!
    watermelon cut up. Kids cheer for watermelon! and you can do watermelon cups w/ yogurt over it. etc etc etc =)

  • Robert

    I have to give you an enthusiastic “thumbs sideways” for this article. I am a father of two very active and very healthy girls that can show off their six pack abs(just not in public). I am also a recreational soccer coach that has researched extensively what to tell the parents of my players about nutrition. A snack after a soccer game is absolutely essential within an hour. For most kids soccer is the most intensive workout they engage in all year. They are on the verge of dehydration, and their glycogen stores are depleted, and those need to be refueled. I completely agree that the crap that many parents bring for an after-game snack is not what they should be eating, but a balanced snack of complex carbohydrates, proteins and fluids is necessary to replace what they have used. I’m sorry that I have to disagree with your interpretation of what Nancy Clark says, but I have seen plenty of players with bodies that did not regulate in the way she suggests, and it is because their bodies’ natural regulators are thrown off by the simple sugars that they are given after a game(Candy and sports drinks!). Their insulin spikes, and later their blood sugar levels plummet suddenly, before anyone can react, and cause the evening and next day to become unbearable with the psychiatric consequences. Please take this high profile opportunity to spread an accurate message about proper post-game nutrition.

    • Kiran Dodeja Smith

      With all due respect, Robert, I actually had a phone interview with Nancy Clark – so there was no interpretation. She gave me the quote to use in this piece.

      My personal opinion is that there are many factors, including the age of the child, level and length of play, climate/temperature, and more that go into determining what is required after play.

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