Kids Don’t Need Snacks in Recreational Sports!

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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  • Comments

    1. SHAWNA |

      How do i get a copy of your letter you turned into the soccer organization to use to turn into our military family sports diretor?

    2. Stefan Steiner |

      I agree with your feelings about processed snacks after a game but a number of your suggestions are just largely sugar but in a fruit disguise. My kids are in high school and have played sports since they were three. The thing that we found that satisfy them the best after games and practices is water and chocolate milk. Choco milk quickly replenishes them with much more than sugar. Fat and protein are two key things along with other things. Applesauce, oranges and dates, even organic, are mostly just sugar and just make the kids hyped up and wanting more. I’m not the only one who feels this way about chocolate milk. It’s kind of the magic after sports drink :-)

    3. Jill |

      I couldn’t agree with you more! The whole snack situation has me baffled and to be honest, very agitated. I cannot understand why parents feel the need to bring a snack for every game and practice. Last fall, during fall baseball, I ran into this same exact problem. Practices and games were always at 5:30, so the kids would be eating dinner right after; therefore, no snack would be necessary. Several parents stood up and announced that a snack schedule was necessary. Unlike you, I was the nasty mom who opted out of the snack schedule. I told them I thought it was ridiculous and that I would not be participating in the schedule. I told my son that he didn’t need the snack because we would be going home for dinner after the game/practice. He was actually okay with that, surprisingly so, and was also perfectly fine drinking the water from his water bottle. I am so glad to have read this article!

    4. |

      I really believe in eating good, healthy food. I disagree somewhat with the idea that you don’t need snacks after exercise: it’s not a one size fits all solution. I agree you should have better choices for after exercise that chips and sugar filled drinks. I was diagnosed with low blood sugar as a child and had to eat every 2 hours. Even as an adult, if I don’t eat after I exercise, I will be on the floor. So, I like that you provided a list of healthy choices for those children and adults who can’t abide by the “no snacks after exercise” rule.

    5. Gregory Walker |


      As a practicing pediatric sports medicine physician, I am encouraged to read your article. What you bring about is two separate arguments on nutrition for young athletes: 1. Quality of the nutrition (carrot slices vs Cheetos, for example) and 2. Timing of the nutrition (immediately following exercise vs delayed). Your argument on the quality of the nutrition is spot-on. It is unarguable that the quality of snacks available to our youth have plummeted over the past 30 years. To give our children ultra-refined processed food and drink is a shame. However, on the timing argument, it is important to recognize that the body is optimally ‘primed’ to receive carbohydrates within the first 15-20 min following exercise. It is through this pathway that we can bypass insulin-mediated movement of glucose into cells. Obviously, if the child has spent 30 min sitting on the bench, an immediate snack does not make sense. However, if that child has been engaged in exercise, the post exercise snack (with hydration) is an excellent way to replenish glucose stores, rehydrate and avoid the insulin-mediated post meal ‘crash’ at the next meal. Thank you for your article.

      • Kiran |

        I appreciate your professional insight. And I agree with your thoughts. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation; the degree of activity varies greatly. For those who are engaging in very active sports, yes, they will need to replenish. As stated in the post, I am not a professional on the topic, but I’ve been active/an athlete (in my own mind, at least):) all of my life. I replenish after a 5-mile run with a banana and water, or dates with almond butter, etc. I get it. My problem is the “reward” idea that our kids get, and as we agree on, the quality of the snacks provided. And in my case (with my daughter), the level of exercise was honestly not that high. She would have been fine with oranges and water and heading home to have lunch.
        All in all, it sounds like we are in agreement and again, I appreciate your input!

    6. Ashley |

      I was so upset the other day and everyone thought i was blowing it out of proportion. My kids went to religious education class and the teacher handed out twinkies and capri sun?? Really!?? So unnecessary. And my kids do eat sweets on occasion but This made me mad.

    7. Katrina |

      Sadly not every child is fed a healthy breakfast or lunch before playing a game. Offering a healthy snack after a practice or game gives children excellent exposure to quality healthy snacks. We can be an example to the youth and other parents by bringing healthy snacks.

    8. Michelle |

      I would like to piggy-back on the above comment and reiterate the two important points being made here:

      1) recovery – after an hour to 90 minutes of soccer play, especially on a hot day, there is absolutely a recovery period where the body needs to be replenished. so YES, the kids do need a snack or some sort of replenishment;

      2) quality – agreed, the quality of the snack is important. Doritos, cheetos, and the like are not appropriate. Believe it or not, a chocolate milk is a great recovery beverage, especially in a tournament situation where there are back-to-back games.

    9. LisaB |

      I agree — unless the kids have genuinely had a long, hard game, team snacks are not necessary and frequently introduce highly processed snacks that compete with the dinner I’ve fed or am about to feed my child. Half the time, my child doesn’t even eat the snack provided.
      If other parents prefer their children to have post-game snacks, it absolutely makes sense for them to bring one and make it available. It does *not* make sense to get indignant and guilt everyone else into providing it for them. My exception to this would be if you’re participating on a team with low-income families who genuinely have a hard time providing quality food for their children. But for most of the folks I know, the snack equals additional food for kids who are often already eating too much.

    10. Dee |

      I just proposed providing a water jug and asking boys to bring their own bottles to refill. Also, I asked respectfully if team snacks could be re-thought. This is for 13 year olds who all should be having dinner before a 6:00 game and are old enough to pack their own snack and beverage. But no, I’ve now ticked the coach off since this is the way he’s always done things and I have gone and stirred the pot. Two parents are required at every game- one to bring a team snack and one to bring beverages. No mention of a “healthy” snack even or even water. I really do not understand why parents or TEENS can’t be responsible for their own food. My son is has raging ADHD with insomnia. I will have to endure another year of watching him wash oreos down with gatoraid right before bed. Or, storm the bench and take it away in front of his team, that’s always fun. :( I am not sorry for making the proposal however.

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