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

  • nichole

    I’m a new soccer mom and I bring options. You can pick your child’s choice. I wont push anything on anyone. Its not a party at my house or my child’s birthday. Also its once a week after a game.

  • This is a great site. Do you play in any sports? We love to play different darts games at home with tungsten darts. If you are interested in darts please read this

  • LaRay

    You just validated my thoughts exactly. I think the whole snack/juice thing after baseball/sports is the most ridiculous practice in organized sports. Our kids are taught at school to “not share” food and about healthy choices, etc. Then, the go to sports to get sugar, gluten, processed junk food and HFCS. It makes me crazy. I’ll worry about my kid, you worry about yours. The whole point of getting my kid on the field is for exercise and teach team building …. not to consume garbage after the practice.

  • Mandy K

    Thank you for this! Our local YMCA has a “healthy snack agreement” that parents sign for $5 off the registration fee. It basically limits the snacks to water (NO sports drinks), and fruit or real yogurt. My son’s football team doesn’t have this, and the first snack was 2 cookies, a fruit roll up, a sports drink, a banana, and a granola bar (the treat kind). He was sick the rest of the day. That wasn’t a snack, it was a crappy lunch.

  • Ro

    I accidentally stumbled across your blog while googling soccer meals, and I just want to share some thoughts on this subject. I have been playing soccer for the past 20 years, I started when I was a little girl probably around your daughter’s age. I have found that eating the rights foods can make a huge difference in energy levels and performance in games. I know your daughter is still young, but if she decides to stick with soccer and move into more intense, competitive play, diet will become a very important factor. I know it seems counterintuitive to eat “unhealthy” sugary foods, but carbohydrates are very important for fueling. Whole grain foods, while they are a superb choice for normal meals, is not ideal for soccer. It takes a long time for the body to break down whole wheat. Simpler sugars like white bread and rice cereal are better choices. I used to eat fig newtons immediately after games to replenish my carbs. Sports drink are also good to drink after games because they replenish salt and sugar that was lost during play. It is unnecessary to drink sugary drinks like gatorade outside of sports, but drinking it right after playing a soccer game is beneficial to restoring lost glucose and electrolyte levels. In the aftermath of a game, eating sugar and salt won’t get stored away and act as “unhealthy” compounds like they usually would, they’ll be immediately used up by the body to replace missing stores. Also, eating white flour pasta is a good meal to eat the night before a game because the carbs get broken down and stored as glycogen that will soon be burned as fuel during exercise the next day. White flour pasta is also good for replenishing glycogen levels after a game. I know you are concerned about providing healthy, nutritious meals for your kid, but just make sure you understand that white flour and simple carbs are extremely important for short-term prep and recovery in sports.

    • Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Great points, Ro. And I completely agree that you are at a different league (pardon the pun). Should she get more serious down the road, her dietary needs may change. This post was more regarding the young (7-year-olds) who play 45 minutes of rec soccer – and that 45 minutes is not all “play” time. But I am glad that you shared your experiences as a seasoned player!:)

    • Susan

      I am so glad you posted this :) Our boys race BMX and what you just pointed out is exactly what we do for them. I’ve just about had enough of people thinking you need to “eat grass and dirt out of a biodegradable bag”. Our kids know when they need to eat,and when they need to drink. Again, glad you posted this. :)

  • Tina

    I really enjoyed and appreciated this post, as this is something I have struggled with as well. At age 5-7 my son played rec soccer where the post game snack was as much of an activity to the kids as the game itself and I cringed to watch my son consume bags of junk food and sugar drinks after having such a good workout. It is almost the same as an adult grabbing a Big Mac right after a class at the gym. What exactly is this teaching them? Then we entered the world of competitive soccer. There is no organized team snack and I love it!! Parents are responsible for feeding their own kids as they deem appropriate which is the way it should be, as all kids are different. I can say that for my own son, who is 10 now, food right after the game is almost always a necessity. For almost 1 hour straight he is constantly running and working, and afterwards the tank is completely empty. We have witnessed emotional and physical meltdowns at times as a result and have learned to have healthy snacks (bananas, apples, sandwiches, water, etc) ready to go to help him refuel.

    My family is trying to transition to a diet of whole foods and social situations such as these seem to be the most difficult when it comes to kids. There is so much exposure to junk food and it seems to be a constant battle to keep children from getting hooked on processed foods. My only advice is to be the parent who challenges the norm and makes the extra effort to bring food the is both healthy and tasty. You might not be the favorite in the eyes of the kids, but who knows, you might inspire another parent to follow your lead!

  • When my kids were growing up at home, as a single mom on limited funds, I never bought soda or any kind of processed snack;instead, I loved to bake, so I baked all our snacks. Then I became a teacher and left my kids with sitters or aftercare and the snack horror began. At least today most moms are trying to feed their kids healthy meals and snacks and thanks to people like Lisa, there is a constant flow of information about it. Fight on moms. You are making a difference.

  • Nate

    good ideas, but what about PICKLES!!!!!

  • Ashley

    This post was super helpful. I also really enjoyed the links to other blogs about this topic. My almost 3 year old is starting preschool this fall, and snack time is one of biggest concerns! I don’t want to be the “mean mom” either, but I also want to continue my daughter on a path of whole, unprocessed foods. I feel that she is especially vulnerable at this age and would LOVE all of the super processed, sugary snacks that I imagine some other parents sending in on their snack day. I need to find a polite way of suggesting a healthy snack policy, but again, don’t want to be “that mom.”

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