5 Inexpensive Real Food Snacks for Sports and School

This post is by blog team member, Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page!

Last year I wrote a post on snacks that kids receive in recreational sports. Specifically, I was referring to my 7 year-old’s soccer team where she “played” for 45 minutes and then was given junk food to “recover.”

I honestly had no idea what a positive (thank goodness!) reaction would come of it. I was overjoyed to hear how many people were on board with the notion that kids who are playing rec sports needn’t be given a cookie and a Capri-Sun after each game.


On that same topic, I did have a couple of comments from parents who felt that it came down to cost – specifically that it’s cheaper to purchase the bags of Cheetos or Doritos than to do my suggested “real food” snacks. So I want to debunk that theory.

But before I do – I want to mention that this not only relates to recreational sports … one other area that has always been an object of irritation to me is at preschool. Similarly, they are feeding the masses, and I’m guessing that the administration assumes that it’s more cost-effective to buy the huge container of cheese balls to serve to the kiddos.

So I went to Wal-Mart. While I personally don’t shop for food there on a regular basis, I feel that this is a very reasonable store (cost-wise) that is fairly accessible to many people and therefore a good choice for this exercise. Since I had a tough time finding organic, I went with the best options that I could find. I needn’t say more; I believe that my numbers below support my message.

I also want to mention another great tie-in that can definitely up the “cuteness” factor of these snacks, but more so, offer inspirational messages for teams and sports. You often see these Lunchbox Love cards used in Lisa’s school lunch photos (and are actually one of our favorite lunchbox items for my kids, as well!).

Lunchbox Love cards

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These would be really cute to staple on to the bags of popcorn or to simply hand out to the team players. And since Lunchbox Love is one of our partners they are offering our readers (you!) 20% off of all purchases with the “100days” code.

And now without further adieu, I present the snack list!

Option 1: Popcorn (Large Container vs. Mini-Bags)

sports snack comparison on 100 Days of #RealFood

You may be thinking that the mini bags of popcorn are a good option to go with, but did you know that it’s just as easy to pop your own kernels using the popcorn trick? I compared a box of 10 bags with a large jar of kernels plus the plain brown bags. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also avoid Refined Oil, Artificial Flavor, Added Color, and TBHQ.

Option 2: Trail Mix vs. Raisins

sports snack comparison on 100 Days of #RealFood

There are so many issues to address here … so let me first start with the notion that you may assume that trail mix, including a mixture of nuts (good for protein, right?), raisins and the oh-so-colorfully attractive bits of candy look good. Was it the sweet or salty that sold you? But get over that initial impression, because oh-my-goodness look at this ingredient list! Save yourself (and your kiddos) from the soy (that’s likely GMO), the refined oil and the food dyes, which you know we are not fans of.

A simple box of raisins is just as easy to hand out. Oh, and I know we have some parents of kids with nut allergies who are giving me a huge (virtual) high-five right now, too!

Option 3: Cheese Sticks vs. Chips

sports snack comparison on 100 Days of #RealFood

Alrighty … next up is a huge pet peeve of mine. What gives with the bags of chips? I mean, didn’t your kid just hit the baseball field to get a healthy dose of some outdoor fun and exercise? And now we’re handing him and his teammates bags of chips? Grrr.

Instead of a cheesy bag of chips, how about a cheesestick to go along with a cup of fresh water? I’m not even gonna go there with all of the ingredients (ahem, MaltodextrinCorn Syrup Solids, Sugar, MSG, Food Dyes, and so many more) that you can avoid. And just check out which one is cheaper…

Option 4: Mini-Donuts vs. Mini-Apples

sports snack comparison on 100 Days of #RealFood

I know you’re thinking – how do donuts compare to apples? And you’re right. Aside from both being cute and little and round, they don’t  have much in common. Which is the point.

This is one where the cost is slightly higher for the real food option. But for the 8 cents per apple, you are saving your kiddos from highly processed ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, dextrose, and numerous preservatives. Need I say more?

Option 5: Gatorade vs. Water

This last one is such a small yet impactful change you can make. Please … whether your child is playing sports, or she’s trying to concentrate in school – just simple water is best. Ideally it’s in a reusable bottle, but I understand that these minis are convenient. These pictured G2’s contain Sucrose, Dextrose, Monopotassium Phosphate, Glycerol Ester of Rosin and Blue 1. Save your child from these highly processed ingredients – and save some money, too!!

sports snack comparison on 100 Days of #RealFood

My Thoughts on Snacks Overall

If you read my earlier post on snacks, know I still stand my ground. I don’t believe that in recreational sports there needs to be a snack given at all. But on the occasion that they are, there are so many other great (and affordable!) ideas for real food snacks that can feed the teams and classes!

I’d love for you to share your ideas with us in the comments below.

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217 thoughts on “5 Inexpensive Real Food Snacks for Sports and School”

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  1. I agree with you 100% however – you should have seen the looks on the kids’ faces last spring when I pulled out water bottles, cheese sticks, and cuties. They were not impressed and half of them didn’t even take them. As mentioned below, my kids didn’t like being known as the ones who bring the “healthy snacks”. I will probably do Smart Pop popcorn and 100% juice boxes this year.

  2. Working for a private preschool & afterschool care program, I agree 100% that cost is a factor.

    We already get cheese sticks and whole apples that we cut up. I am planning on using the paper bag in the microwave truck for our next snack at the school.

    Any other healthy ideas that I can incorporate I am ready and willing to hear!

  3. This is a good post, however, I can see some benefit to a drink like Gatorade which can help replace electrolytes and reduce the risk of water intoxication in children who have been playing hard under a hot sun and sweating profusely. Of course, if your child only plays moderately or for a short time, water is fine. I like to add a few squirts of stevia based water flavoring and a healthy sprinkle of salt to bottled water myself.

  4. My children are gron now 26g,23g&20b.I always sent what ever fruit was in season,tangerines,plums wirh kid sized watwer bottles(8-12oz). I always had a take it or leave it attitude, you dont care for my snack choice, so be it! You do not have to eat it.

    For the highschool football team, how about a make your own sandwich table . Provide a couple of loaves of bread,peanutbutte( if allowed) jam each player could make himself 1-2sandwiches) a table would fitnin belly of busat hs age they should all be capable of makeing there own sandwich, its healthy,cheap& filling. The Summer before my sons seanior year of hugh school I kep a pladtic box with 3pb&jseach sandwich had a different jamin the fridge at all times, my son could come in grab his sandwich box ,a cold refilled water bottle & eat as many sandwiches as he needed to fill up!I I only had to make sandwiches 2-3tinesca day, they were ready & waiting for him & the ” im hungary monster” at my house mr. Im hungary MUSR used his manners, the monster only appeared 1or 2times,then left,if you use poor /bad mannors you are served last.hungary learned to wait his or hervturn!
    Hello!!?. You are in a developed countryyou will not starve to desth by waiting your turn!

  5. Hi!

    Here’s my question – how do you handle it when you are the only parent on the healthy food train? My daughter gets mad because everyone else’s parents bring “cool snacks” (chips, fruit snacks, kool-aid, candy, etc) and we bring healthier choices. I don’t think we’re very popular with the girls on the team either. I’ve explained my reasons to my daughter and she understands – but she still hates having the boring snacks. Any ideas for increasing our “cool factor”?

    1. I had the same problem with my daughter and the soccer team. She was in middle school (2 years ago) and the other Mom’s sent chocolate, chips, juice boxes, etc. I was much more concerned with the snack not dragging down their performance. I started making frozen fruit kabobs and the girls loved them. I would take a wooden kabob stick (from the $ store) and add cut up watermelon, grapes, pineapple, cheese sticks, blueberries, etc (which ever fruit was in season) and freeze them the night before the game. Then I would bring them to the game and as they approached half time (when they would have the snacks) the sticks would thaw but stay cold – it was colorful, fun and refreshing and I instantly was asked if I could make them for every game. I think the idea of eating off a stick and that it was varied and colorful made the girls like them.

    2. You can buy bags of flavored rice cakes; the carbs last longer allowing the athlete to perform, and they are just as tasty. Flavors include apple cinnamon, cheese, and caramel.

      Parmesean popcorn is delicious

      You can also make home made frozen fruit bars; blueberries and greek yogurt are a great energizing mix. The dairy fat also helps to slow the breakdown in sugars from the blueberries as well.

      Peanut butter balls dipped in a bit of dark chocolate. Classic sports energy snack.

      Lastly, sell your athletes on PERFORMANCE
      Let them know that while the other team is sucking down juice and cookies, your team is gonna mop the field with them especially come the second half >:)

  6. Please be cautious about stating that water is as good as Gatorade type drinks. In my effort to eliminate food dyes and sugar I was too stubborn to allow my long distance runner Gatorade and he ended up in the urgent care after passing out from electrolyte imbalance. He was drinking plenty of water but it wasn’t enough to replace what he was losing. Water was not just as good as an electrolyte solution. We live in the desert and it is a very real issue here as I learned the hard way.

    There are real food ways of addressing this but it is not accurate to say electrolyte drinks or similar attention to balance isn’t needed.

  7. Ok so I love this! I completely agree with this! I’d also like to add that snacks for things like afternoon in preschool or kindergarten rooms, it may not be a huge difference but if it had to be anything like a chip/cracker, I’d at least like to see baked crackers like gold fish or cheese it’s used instead of fried potato chips! Also, my favorite way to send in 24 snacks that we healthy and cost effective?…..look at the ads the week of ur snack turn and find what fruit is on sale and most kids like (apples, grapes, pineapple, strawberries) grapes are my favorite but can be $8 for one bag. So when they go on sale for $.80 cents a lb. i grab 3 bags for maybe 5-6 dollars total. And a $1 box of snack size baggies. I rinse and take them off vine and make 24 individual baggies of fresh grapes. Keep them in cooler till I serve. Crisp cool grapes are a great snack and energy boost after a game especially with the fluid in them to help hydrate! I find this super effective esp in classrooms etc where some kids parents won’t let them have classroom snack if it has processed sugar. I know this method takes some effort but the $8 I spend on that I could have spent the same on baggies if chips, and I feel like a much better mom this way!! And if ur that worried about the effort do apples! Just make sure they are cold and crisp and a sweet kind of apple. :) love the article!

  8. I appreciate that my daughter’s gymnastics club does stamps on hands at the end of practice rather than treats. At the end of the season, each child gets to choose a strip of stickers as a reward. They are also encouraged to bring their own refillable water bottle to practice.

    Granted, we are just entering the competition level this year, so we will see what comes, but at the recreational level, their priorities seem to be in the right place.

  9. I had a quick question that I’d love your feedback on! My sons are older football players (14 and 16) and they travel every other week for away games. The school feeds them before the games, but then they play several hours so they ask parents to donate snacks for the hour plus drive home. There are approximately 50 players on each team – and I completely believe that in this instance they do need the refueling (a 3 hour exertion versus a pop warner type saturday game that’s an hour or so in length). What are your thoughts for healthy snacks to refuel in this instance? I’ll confess I’ve sent some less healthy options recently due to the large number or people needing snacks – things like Nature Valley protein bars, peanut butter crackers and snack size mixes like Chex Mix or pretzels.

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Hi Kim,

      Such a realistic situation; I can understand where you are coming from. Question for you – are you allowed to do anything homemade? I know some schools/organizations allow it, and others don’t. If so, how about some of the following ideas:

      -Banana + muffin (pumpkin/apple/blueberry/etc. – we have lots of related recipes
      -Apple + whole wheat pretzels
      -Fruit + homemade granola
      -Fruit + hard boiled egg (and maybe even one of the above – muffin, ww pretzels, granola
      -Waffle with nut butter (made into a sandwich + fruit) – you can do sun butter if there are restrictions

      Hope this helps – let me know if you need more ideas!

  10. I like this blog and the info. I am all for a treat for the kiddos. But you can always make them more heather. For example applesauce instead of oil in baked goods. Adding flax, and chia seeds to baked goods. I love making avacodo brownies or homemade granola for snacks. Served with a nice cup of fruit.

  11. Our preschool requires snacks be commercially prepared. Believe me, I’d rather give them low-cost air-popped popcorn than microwave popcorn chemicals. So we go the middle route by paying the premium pricing for Pirate’s Booty with pronounceable ingredients.

  12. I dislike snacks given after a sports game…. The majority of it is junk, and I really feel bad about telling my kids no they can’t have it. Sometimes we have paid our kids for their junky snacks they receive.

  13. Bottled water? Come on. That’s as uncool as, like, smoking or something. I agree that bottled sports drinks are also a racket, but just buy everyone in your family a reusable water bottle to save some REAL money.

  14. I so appreciate this post, and the lesson that you illustrate of how you can find easily accessible fuel for young athletes, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

    This might not be right for y’all but http://www.athleticfoodie.com has snacks designed specifically for young athletes. They are more expensive than the items on this post, but the nutritional density and design for young athletes in particular make them very unique.

  15. OM WOW! Golly gee thank you! I found this post as I looked for inexpensive snacks for our kids’s classrooms. Snack lists at three schools are tough on one income so I appreciate that you did the leg work for me in advance. Clever YOU! We are on the same page in regard to processed this- and packaged that- … and so many other things. :). Feeling better, thank you!

  16. As someone who grew up playing a lot of sports I can’t remember ever getting a snack after I was done. Food was eaten at breakfast, lunch, supper, and the occasional before bedtime snack. But never as a reward for going out and playing a game. A lot of these comments talk about depleted energy levels, etc. which is really only relevant in the off chance that your child is playing high intensity sports for extended periods of time. Not a bunch of 5 year olds running around playing soccer for an hour.
    In my adult life, I still play sports (ultimate frisbee, half marathon running and cross-fit) and never have I felt the need to have a snack at half-time, or after a game if I have eaten properly through-out the day (my family follows a fairly strict paleo diet. Want to talk about real food? This will force you to eat real food and cut out all the processed options that are out there.). Even if I haven’t eaten properly, unless I’m playing tournaments (4-7 hours of play in a day) I’m not opening up a snack on the sideline to ‘re-fuel’, it’s just not necessary.
    As a coach (10+ years of coaching all ages and levels of soccer) I’ve never had a child come up to me and tell me that they’re hungry after a game (and believe me, as a coach there’s not much that you don’t hear from the kids that you are coaching). So why give them food if they’re not hungry? That just perpetuates the obesity problem that is becoming more and more prevalent within our society. Last point in this long rant, unless children are doing prolonged periods of high intensity work, there is no reason that they need to drink a sports drink after playing their games/practices. Sports drinks were developed to help replenish more than just water within the drinker’s system and are not necessary for children to drink after playing an hour soccer game. Unfortunately due to a great marketing campaign, people (like the ones who are consistently complained about through these comments) feel like this is an acceptable drink after any kind of physical activity. It really comes down to re-education of society as to what is necessary for our levels of activity, and to question everything that pertains to our nutrition.
    Below is a link that I quickly found regarding the gatorade vs water, and there are so many more out there.


  17. It isn’t just once a week even if your kids do not play sports. My daughter does not play sports right now she is 6 but she gets a candy for a good job at school, she gets candy if she sounds a word out and now they are selling candy crap every Friday. I mean WHAT really they promote good health and healthy eating but they contribute to garbage.

  18. My children are older now (and thankfully beginning to jump on the organic, healthful foods bandwagon), but we still bring things like quartered oranges occasionally to sports events, especially in hot weather. These are really sweet and replace even something like Gatorade hands down…. Sweet and drink, all in one!

  19. why is there not regular tap water? Filtered water from your kitchen, maybe? Buying bottled water is ridiculous!
    Buy a drinking bottle, use it… Re-use it. Repeat.
    I don’t know if it’s cheap or not, but I think that great snacks missing here are:
    Cherry or grape tomatoes
    Carrot and cucumber sticks.
    A simple lunchbox banana, a bunch of grapes, a small mandarine.
    Home made fruit salad
    My kids take snacks like this to school and not only they don’t complain about them, but they ask for more.

  20. Apples better than donuts?! Cheese better than Doritos?! Water healthier than Gatorade? NO DUH. Why does this need to be pointed out?!

  21. It’s so refreshing to see all of these responses. This year was our first in a sport and I was appalled that these kids were getting packs of cookies and blue and red Gatorade. This is a terrible thing to encourage. And I’m not a fun sucking mom but if we all only exercised so we got a treat then there would be little health gain. Let alone the behavioural issues that come from feeding kids high sugar, dyes, and preservatives. We brought organic granola and Honest kids juice (which isn’t as good as water but appeases the sugar craving masses). I wanted to bring cheese and water but my son scoffed haha.

  22. I made my 8 yr olds soccer team fruit kabobs and water for their after game snack. Parents loved the idea. Went over very well with the kids too!😃

  23. In response to some of the other comments, it’s NOT just once a week for us. It’s ALL week, when you count sports, bday parties, school parties, holidays, lollipop at the dry cleaners and at the hair dresser, grandparent treats, church refreshments (ie doughnuts),, play dates. It is out of control. I can’t imagine a ‘regular’ week…seems like there’s always am excuse for treats. It’s just not fair to our kids. We, as parents, owe it to our kids to do better.

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      So true, Mary. Just yesterday we were at music (guitar and piano). The guitar teacher offers a mint to my daughter after her class. For no reason. We politely decline. In the waiting room, there are lollipops. Again, no reason. Stop at the bank and they offer lollipops again. Just a typical Monday, right? My kids have gotten to a point where they know we won’t accept. They are there; I just wish the adults would get to a point where they stop offering.

      1. I’m so happy to see comments I can completely identify with. Everywhere we go people are offering junk to my kids and act like your a “mean mommy” for not letting them have it. I call them sugar pushers.

      2. My kid’s coach knows that the reason why he sticks by his side until he delivers all the gummy snakes to the team is because he is waiting for a sticker. Good old stickers are good enough for my kid.

        I’m a DDS and I agree, society rewards kids with lollies like there is no consequence.

    2. I hate this, too!! It puts me in a position where I have to be the stickler and the meanie; I don’t get to offer sweet treats myself once in a while because there is always way more than enough anyway, and not only that, the kids’ tastes buds are constantly being dulled and conditioned to like intense sugar, so they don’t feel my kind of sweet treat is the “real thing” anyway. This can be a really hard issue to negotiate with grandparents, aunts and uncles. I confess I’ve pretty much given up.

    3. Have you ever declined M&M’s for your kid and then feel like apologising like crazy? I mean, it is not fair, but sometimes I have to do it. I don’t have to jump in and take the chocolates from my kid, he doesn’t even accepts them, so I feel like giving an explanation so they don’t feel judged. They always do.

  24. LOL…. this post is great! Thank you so much for writing it! Last year I was THAT mom! I brought water, cheese sticks, rice cakes, and healthier options. Sometimes the kids would look at me like I was crazy and walk away w/o taking their snack. At the same time there were times we would politely thank the other parent and then deny their Capri Sun and cookies. Our daughter plays alot of sports and so this was getting rather frustrating to me but I was determined to teach her that she does not always have to do what everyone else is doing. It might just be once a week but you give in to sport snacks, birthday parties, Halloween, Christmas, Valentines Day…. that all ads up.I do let her have some sweets but on something so regular as sports or school I stand my ground. Specially since there are so many easy options out there. And if the kids didn’t want what I brought that was ok, at least she saw that I was practicing what I preach.

  25. Yes! I agree with you. I was actually just discussing the after sport “snack” last night at my daughter’s volleyball game. I was happy to see that our team was not doing any snack because I agree that it really doesn’t need to happen at all. She was on a basketball team that did the snacks and it was always a capri sun and fruit snacks that people brought. I wanted to do something better for the kids, but I was afraid of the backlash and just brought what everyone else brought–but looking back I wish I had been braver about going against the grain and starting a conversation about it. In the future, when my kids are on teams that ask for snacks, I will point them to your blog post and bring what I want to bring :)

  26. It sounds like the majority of the commenting moms are feeding their children all organic, no preservatives, no dyes, dietary perfection everyday, all day and that is AMAZING, bravo!

    However, one treat a week, I honestly do not feel is going to lead you ( or my) child into obesity or derail your (or my) healthy eating efforts.

    I think it is great that some parents bring the healthy options and my kids love the parents who throw in a pack of Oreos. I choose not to sweat the small stuff. And this to me is the small stuff. Did my kid have fun in his game? Is he enjoying his friends? Is he excited by his snack? Sounds pretty good to me.

    However, if you are counting the GMO’s in popcorn this issue is issue is much bigger than the treats being brought to soccer games.