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 totally agree. Last year for preschool the parents were asked to send a snack and we all took turns bringing the class snack. While cake pops are cute, I did not appreciate the suger snack. I was so happy with the parents that brought something healthy. I have a very picky eater and she needed the positive peer pressure to eat some new things like string cheese.

  2. Wow – The comments on here shock me. I’m glad my children are not on teams with your children. I have 5 children who play 13 sports per year in total. There are so many other things to worry about. Every team has a snack and they love it. At 9, 11, 11, 13, and15 they are practicing for 90-120 minutes if they want chips and Gatorade fine with me. As your children you will see how trivial this subject really is. Actually I am amused by it.

    1. Kiran Dodeja Smith

      Glad you are amused, Cindy. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. My eldest (10) does gymnastics practice for 3 – 3.5 hours at a time. And does she get a healthy snack after that? Yes. But does my 8 year-old need a snack after 45 minutes of soccer practice, when practice ends at lunchtime and we’re headed home to eat? No. These are my opinions. And I personally am NOT fine with giving them Gatorade as I am not a fan of the food dyes. To each her own, though.

    2. This is just MY opinion, but I’ve watched one too many documentaries about the obesity epidemic to ever consider using the word “trivial” about this subject. And I don’t actually feel there are “so many other things to worry about.” The health of my family is in the very top of my priorities. Why wouldn’t a parent want to do the very best they can for their child in keeping them as healthy as possible? Why is that trivial?

  3. I have not read all the comments, but wanted to address how I handle snack time with 5 athletes. I don’t enjoy after game snacks either, but since it is a requirement, i go for the home made ones. I make muffins most often and give a string cheese and piece of fruit (banana or oranges are great for after exercising). I assume that since they have been playing a sport, they have their own water jug or drink of their choice. Banana wheat muffins are a hit as are rice Krispie treats (although probably not the healthiest) I have not found anyone allergic to either of those treats. I also have made my own granola bars (i know this website has many great ideas too) and find everyone enjoys a home made treat best!!! (every coach has given me permission to make my own vs. store bought kinds, but you do need to ask for allergies ahead of time).

  4. I remember playing soccer growing up, and we kids would be pretty tired right around half-time. They would give us oranges and water for snacks, and it was the best thing they could have done. It recharged us in just minutes and we were ready to finish the game with plenty of energy, and then some!

  5. Thanks so much for this. Keep beating the drum!! Whole/Real is not always more expensive than fake food!
    It makes me so mad every time I see or hear something stated on TV or in print media about how ‘such and so can not afford real food’. It’s a myth that is being perpetuated by people who are trying to make money off fake food!!! Just heard this morning that bc McDonald’s sales are going down, they will push promotions and lower prices to turn that around. I get it, they want to make money. But at the sake of making people sick. Our kids deserve better than to be fed junk everywhere: school, daycare, church, sports, etc.

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  7. Thank you for posting this! I would love more ideas on school snacks for a crowd – especially that don’t require refrigeration. I volunteer in my neighborhood school, as well as run an after school tutoring program for low-income kiddos. It pains me to see the garbage the kids are eating in schools these days. I actually just went to Trader Joe’s today to stock up on snacks for the kids. I bought 2 packs of mini pears for $2.99 each (12 pears per bag) as well as 2 packs of mini apples for $2.45 each (10 apples per bag) – and BOTH were organic! Additionally, I purchased some string cheese there – I believe it was $3.99 for 12. Definitely some economical options! Thank you for the suggestions and comparisons – I hope this post gets shared over and over and over again.

    1. That is awesome, Alison!
      How about bananas (also inexpensive at TJ’s), they also have mini packs of almonds (though I know the nut allergy folks won’t be crazy about this idea):), or fruit leather (if you can find it w/o sweeteners)? Squeezable applesauces are another option, though those really aren’t that inexpensive, unfortunately.

  8. At soccer we do either grapes or oranges for half time. I just wash and clip the grapes into smallish bunches or cut up the oranges into Quarters. I loved just being told what to do, bring grapes or oranges. These kids okay hard and I think the little fructose and water they all bring helps. They play an hour and are 11.

  9. I really liked this post. Really specific, down-to-earth info that applies to anyone. Most people can relate to the Walmart foods, even though they might not shop there often. Thanks. And BTW, I remember 20 years ago getting water and orange slices at city league soccer.

  10. I think lots of parents want to bring the more special or fancy snack so they do not seem cheap on their snack day. I wish people would be “cheap” if that means half a banana, a box of plain rainsins, apple slices etc… Agree that the junk food is just not needed. And really — a half banana is not going to ruin dinner, but some of the other snacks do keep my kids full enough that they then do not want the healthy things I make them for dinner.

    1. Of course organic would be better…Kiran’s comparing better options to Cheetos or Doritos, which I appreciate. And, she’s trying to debunk the idea that healthy has to be expensive which is perhaps why people think a Gatorade and a 6-pack of Oreos is an acceptable after game snack for a 6-yr. old (this was an actual snack from my child’s game). I think more than cost, people think that kids should get these unhealthy snacks as rewards for playing a 40-min game which just blows my mind. Although I serve my children organic as much as possible, I would much prefer a non-organic cheese stick and water to the above mentioned snack.

  11. I’m so thankful to be learning to eat “real food” while my babies are still babies. It will make it that much easier to handle situations like recreational sports snacks from the beginning!

    1. You’re are lucky. I was just sitting here thinking “Geez, I wish I would’ve known all this great info when my kids were younger”. To my credit however, I was raised by whole foods kind parents who made almost everything from scratch (I’m one of seven kids so eating out was never a cost effective option for our family). When I started my own family I never paid much attention to ingredients. Now I’m working hard to undo all the prepackaged brain washing but my kids still love to eat a lot of junky, sugary foods. It’s great to start them young!

  12. I sent your post to the organizers of my son’s sports team (i9). I got a quick response that it was great information and it was going to be forwarded to their marketing team (?). I hope they will share it with all their coaches. My husband is actually going to coach my son’s team this fall, so maybe WE can make a difference and share this information with his team. Thanks for all you do!

  13. This is so timely and thank you for a place to discuss this topic. Our soccer coach took this issue to a whole new level last night when she announced to the team during the game that they could all go to Dairy Queen if they won the game! I couldn’t believe it. This is in addition to the snack and drink already provided after the game!! Not to mention it was a school night and already getting late for showers and bedtime routine and my kids had already been fed junk at Grandma’s house(a whole separate issue I’m working on)! I like the coach as a friend and our daughters are friends, so I’m looking for a polite, non-confrontational way to address the issue. Any ideas?

  14. Well I just wanted to add in here too. My household by no means as healthy as some of you. But with three kids I try to give them the best. Then they go to school. A private school that we work hard to pay for. And it’s there that they are given a daily dose of all things I don’t allow in my panty. It’s so sad. My kindergarten child will sometimes refuse the snack saying mom it was just too much sugar. Sounds great on her part. But she’s not always so strong. My 5th grader had to bring package cookies to school for a science project. But all 22 kids brought the cookies. So what does the teacher do allow each kid to have 8 cookies to eat in one sitting!!! Wow. Yes I complained but I might as well talk to a brick wall. All we can really do is very day I tell them I’m sending you with this heathy lunch because I love you and want the best. I tell them to think about the foods they eat and we have deep conversations about eating foods god made and not a lab. We read ingredients together and look them up. But really a child shouldn’t need to feel the outcast because she doesn’t want to eat the 2 grams of trans fat on top of the cupcake.

  15. We got rid of snacks for my daughter’s softball team (they are now in 5th grade) and it has been such a blessing! Not only that, but because of so many allergies on my son’s soccer team (my son has a food dye allergy), the parents opted out of snacks there, too! The kids are there to play and do not even miss the snack. We make sure they have a healthy meal before hand and usually by the time we get home it is time for another meal. Now when the teams go out for ice cream or whatever, it is special and they get to focus on the TIME with friends instead of the junk in the food. Love that you have posted the healthier choices that are generally lower in cost!!!

  16. I completely agree with the whole ‘get rid of the snack’ at the end of a game idea. If you want your child to have a snack, then bring one! It creates a hassle for the coach’s wife (me) to create a snack schedule, then parents end up not bringing the snack. I feel I need to run to the store and get one so there’ll be something at the end of the game!
    Don’t even get me started on the end of the season banquet/trophy vs. not having one…
    How do you suggest going about trying to get the association to do a ‘no snack’ policy?

  17. Amen Sista!! Little league is starting up again & I’m pondering how I can nicely “package up” and email to team (without ruffling feathers) your post. I HATE being ‘that’ mom every time a game ends and I have to say “no you can’t have that”. I sometimes give in so he’s not always feeling different. But come on, I have a kid that struggles enough with ADHD, do we really need to pump food coloring and chemicals I can’t even pronounce into him? OMG, reading this I realize I am ‘that’ mom! ;-)

    Keep up the great work!

  18. Hope you’re having a great week Kiran! Thanks for making it “easy” on me…. When I approached the director and the coaches of my 3 children’s teams about healthy snacks, they were already on board and had your list of healthy options posted on their website. :-) Way to go, and WAY TO GO CSA!!

    1. Hi Yanisa!

      I am so glad you had success!! One team at a time, right? Way to go to YOU for making an effort to suggest changes!


  19. I know some of you are saying no snacks for sports but sometimes it’s necessary.
    My son is 9 and has football games every Saturday at 11:30am. With him having to be there at 9:30 and sometimes an hour away he has breakfast at 8am. The game typically doesn’t end until 12:30-1pm, in the TX heat (heat index over 100 most times) his whole team is exhausted and hungry so a snack to hold them over is really recommended. I definitely agree that a healthy snack is the way to go and most of the other parents agree. We typically have some type of water and a fruit which I have never heard a complaint of any parent.

    PS. I love all of your post, I’ve been following for a long time. Thank you!!!!

  20. Every parent that has to provide snack for a whole class needs to see this. I can’t tell you how many times my kid came home with empty chip/goldfish/prepackaged popcorn bags stuffed in her backpack in kindergarten. Thankfully, I get to pack her snack everyday this year instead of once or twice a month!

  21. We need to fight the schools and their ridiculous rules about food. I know this post is really directed toward after-sports snacks, but my kids were in preschool last year, and the snacks were ridiculous. For example (and these are for 2-4 year olds, twice a day): Large packaged rice krispy treats (26g sugar), pre-made s’mores (poptart style), poptarts, teddy grahams, nutrigrain bars, gummy bears, jello, pudding cups, the list goes on. 85% of the snacks were sugar filled. the others were still chemical filled. A few times a month they had bananas, and carrots with Ranch. Other than that- junk. I refused to give my kids these snacks. The director did not like it, but I insisted on bringing my kids’ snacks. They had to be peanut free and pnfree facility, so I had to bring all labels. I got the “healthier, real food” versions of some of these, like the Nature’s Path version of the poptart, and I split one of them between my two kids. Still not something I would give them at home, but I didn’t want them to feel like outcasts, plus I was also limited in what I could take in (homemade stuff was not allowed). But, it caused problems from the beginning bc the director took it personally like I was saying “her” snacks were not good enough. I graciously told her I just didn’t feel comfortable giving my kids these kinds of snacks 10 times a week, and that we eat a certain way and that I limit my kids’ sugar intake. Looking back, it was her problem if she wanted to get bent out of shape about it. I try to do what’s best for my children, and if someone has a problem with it, oh well!! We need to fight against this poisoning of our babies! And all those kids pumped full of sugar…well they had lots of trouble concentrating and focusing, while my kids had no problem (and I know it had to do with what they ate!). So, we really have to be vigilant.

    1. Jennifer,
      I hear you loud and clear. It’s really a tough battle … you don’t want to be impolite, and we certainly aren’t suggesting that their snacks are not good enough. We are just offering other choices. Perhaps even taking this article to show the cost savings may be a start? And maybe getting other moms to show that they are on board with the same thinking? Just a thought …

  22. Years ago I gave apples and bottled water as a snack at my sons soccer game. Everyone looked at me like I had 4 heads but I didn’t care!

    1. LOL – so many questions on mini-apples. I am referring to the apples that come in a bag. They have them at almost every grocery store I go to. They are smaller than the “regular” apples that are sold alone, but that’s it. HTH!

      1. Gala can be small. Fuji apples are too. Look at what kind it is, and where it comes from. I’m floored at how you call them mini apples. Seems strange, and misinformed.
        I appreciate the info on options available. It’s common sense to me. My kids would need a snack, they have high metabolisms. So for a straight across the board line of “no snacks after sports” that wouldn’t fly in my family. Still have to keep in mind blogs are simply others opinions, and beliefs. I choose to disagree with some of your information. I don’t believe cooking popcorn in a chemically processed paper bag, in the microwave is healthy. It defeats the purpose, unless it’s labeled organic non gmo. I have yet to see that one. Popcorn kettles are a better choice. We all have the ability to be smart, and make good choices for ourselves.

  23. I completely agree with the no snacks at sports (and we don’t even have allergies)!! Depending on the time of the activity, we have either recently had a meal, say weekend morning or afternoon games, will be after a healthy breakfast or a healthy lunch at home, so eating again right after exercising will not be needed. For evening sports, my boys will get a healthy snack; fruits, veggies, nuts, after school to have energy for the sport and then home for dinner, the kids will come back home with great appetite to enjoy a healthy dinner! :-)Thanks for all your great posts!!

  24. I would love to see sports be snack-free…but due to allergies. I don’t understand the constant eating in our society. If a child really can’t make it an hour without eating they are probably eating too many carbs to begin with. How about an apple on the ride home? But of course I’m a little biased because.it’s.just one more place where.my daughter with deadly food allergies would feel left out, or be endangered.

  25. I completely agree with you about healthy snacks without artificial ingredients and not processed. However, I disagree with you about kids needing snacks after a game. 45 minutes of physical exertion is a long time, especially for kids. I absolutely think they need a snack afterward. And it doesn’t ruin my kids appetite for the 3 main meals. I feel your opinion on your post about snacks, is in the wrong post.

    1. Lindsay, I think Lisa’s point was irony – that we send our kids out for exercise, and then give them empty calories to fill back up again.

    2. I think we need to be smart about the types of snacks that kids get, and realistic about what playing soccer represents in terms of energy consumption. According to several websites, a full grown, 150 pound adult, burns about 250 calories in a thirty minute recreational game. A child will burn less because they weigh less, but let’s just assume they play really hard for 45 minutes and manage to use up 250 calories on the field.

      If you give a kid a water and an apple or an orange (the type of snacks common 30 years ago), they are nicely re-hydrated and get about 50-80 calories to boost their blood sugar and keep them going until the next meal. If you give them a bag of Cheetos and a Capri-sun (a common snack today), they consume about 210 calories, or basically everything they just burned in 45 minutes of exercise. That alone should be a reason for even a stubborn coach to rethink the size and content of the snack!

      One other thought on providing snacks. It may be true that a well-fed kid really doesn’t need much, if anything, after a mild sports activity. However, there can be kids from a lot of backgrounds and home situations, and while it might be easy for a kid who had a healthy lunch a few hours ago and is heading home to a healthy dinner in another few hours to skip the snacks, some kids on the team may not be so lucky. A small, healthy snack could be a real blessing for a kid without much to eat at home.

  26. Great post. This feeding our kids crap every time they turn around is so out of hand! I get very upset when I hear people say that junk food is just simply cheaper than healthy food. It’s not! The only thing about your post that I did think was a bit silly… and if you post this again … is buying notes to put in lunches and hand out with team snacks. You might lose some people right there. And this post is excellent and I don’t want the message to get lost. Keep it simple.

  27. Love this! My son is in daycare and his teachers are always asking parents to help out with the late afternoon snack. I’m the mom who brings in the organic grapes, etc. I just have to bring something that I’d want my child to eat. The raisins and cheese are great ideas. I didn’t think about the cheese sticks but I know they’d love that.

  28. My older son has been playing football for years! For my snack day, I give out bananas (or cuties or grapes when in season) and either peanut butter crackers or string cheese. I also give them water. Thanks for the post.

  29. My son isn’t old enough for sports yet, but when I was in sports growing up it was typical to get a drink afterwards provided by parents, but not a snack. If we got a snack it was usually orange slices or grapes. I will admit that parents usually brought sodas or capri suns which aren’t good at all for re-hydrating. When I was on the high school volleyball team and we had to stop to eat after an away game or during an all day tournament our coach only let us have water to drink. It cut down on the cost the school had to pay for our meals (cups of water are usually free at restaurants) and was much healthier. Unless you are loosing a ton of electrolytes (like college and pro athletes do in extreme heat) there is no reason to drink anything except water.

  30. Great post Kiran! My son isn’t playing sports yet so I haven’t seen garbage snacks even handed out but would be horrified. What ever happened to an orange slice and some water? :)

  31. My daughter is in competition gymnastics & practices 4 hours a day/4 days a week. She has to take snacks to keep her going. She is one of the few who brings good, whole foods! The coaches are constantly telling the parents to not send their girls with chips & McDonald’s food! My daughter does take a lot of nut mixes because she needs the protein.

  32. My hubby coached my stepdaughter’s 8 and under softball team and for whatever reason some of the parents thought that we should be providing snacks after every game. We already take a drink cooler of water so kids can either fill up their own bottles or use the cups we bring.I mean hello this is a volunteer position. We did get snacks for one game because it was a Saturday tournament and we had a game wait. So I made little baggies with cheese sticks, red and green grapes and for a treat everybody got a piece of bubble gum. But we still had parents complaining the next game because nothing was brought. I’m sorry but it is not my responsibility to feed your child.

  33. I have asked our coach via email every season if we can please not have snacks and drinks given out after our games. Each coach has put it out to the team for a vote which resulted in overwhelming agreement. It is ridiculous that kids need a snack after a single game. They already bring their own water. I was fed up with our lunch or breakfast being ruined by the kids gobbling up whatever junk was being handed out before they had a proper meal.

  34. Great post…amazing that Gatorade has artificial dye. It is banned in some parts of Europe or it comes with warning label..crazy!!