Ah, the concession stand. I love it, I need it, and I [sometimes] stress out over it.
Why do I love it? It offers a variety of food options I couldn’t reasonably or affordably provide my young athlete.
I need it because it offers a security blanket. Nutrition whenever I need it. There for me if I forget to pack water, snacks or a meal.
I stress out over it because the best selling concessions aren’t always aligned with the fuel an athlete needs to exercise and perform.
It causes me worry because, even for me, the popular items tend to be unhealthy options and they are tempting to my kids. Let’s face it, concession stand food can be hard to police.
Do you feel the same way?
Concession Stand = Opportunity
I believe there’s a unique opportunity that lies within the concession stand. An opportunity to provide the best food to fuel young athletes, providing the ideal nutrients and food components for performance-enhanced competition.
An opportunity to showcase healthy food, while shaping and influencing eating habits.
Unfortunately, too many concession stands in the US miss these golden opportunities.
What the Research is Saying about Concession Stands
We can glean a bit of insight from the few studies that look at concession stands and how they are used.
One 2014 study looked at North Carolina baseball players and what they ate from the concession stand. The researchers found that 90% of the foods eaten at the ball field were purchased there.
Seventy-three percent of the top concession foods were considered unhealthy. Seventy-two percent of the snacks were high calorie, low nutrient options.
For many of us, we don’t need a study to tell us there are plenty of unhealthy options at the concession stand.
One only needs to look at popular items and count the number of nutritious wholesome items (ie, fresh fruit, yogurt, bagels, fresh veggies, deli-style sandwiches) versus the number of sugary, fatty low nutrition ones (ie, pizza, nachos, candy, soda, donuts).
In many cases, the numbers speak for themselves.
Will a Healthy Concession Stand be Profitable?
Adding healthier food items to the concession stand often gets some pushback, mainly accompanied by an argument that healthy food won’t sell.
A 2017 study found that high school students still purchased food from the concession stand when eight healthier food items were added to the mix.
In the end, purchase of healthy options was 9% of sales and the concession stand was profitable with an increase in overall sales by 4 percent.
Yet, small tweaks in food offerings can make a big difference for active kids.
You don’t have to do a full overhaul and risk losing important income. Pick a few actions to work on each year and help mold a more nutritious, advantageous and healthy concession stand for young athletes.Small tweaks in concession stand offerings can make a big difference for active kids. #youngathlete #eatlikeachampion Click To Tweet
8 Tweaks You Can Make Now for the Best Concession Stand Food
Determine a maximum number of “candy” items you will offer. If you offer 10 different options, downgrade to five or six. Relegate them to the back or side of the stand.
Soda & Sugary Drinks:
Do the same with soda and other sugary beverages. Keep the total offerings simple and the list short. One to three full sugar items (soda, lemonade, sweet tea, or 100% juice) and one or two sugar-free offerings (diet soda, tea).
Always offer bottled water or an option for re-fillable water bottles.
Many parents are confused about sports drinks. They know too much is not good, but they wonder if there is a beneficial role to having them available.
Think about whether you’ll offer a sports drink for sale. Many athletic events are of short duration, so a sports drink is probably not necessary for the athlete.
But on hot, humid days out in the sun, a small bottle of sports drink can be very useful in keeping young athletes hydrated.
Fruits & Veggies:
Bring in more fruits and veggies. Wash, cut and portion out fresh fruit into hand-held containers.
Add hummus or salad dressing to the bottom of a cup and stack sticks of veggies on top. Place these options front and center.
You already know that carbohydrate foods are an efficient fuel source for the young athlete. You probably also know that whole grain versions are better than refined types.
So when you’re stocking popular food items or choosing one from it, go for the wholesome carbs.
Choose bagels over donuts. Stock pretzels over potato chips. Muffins instead of pastries.
Don’t forget to offer regular and low-fat cream cheese, hummus, nut butter and other spreads to compliment your carbs.
Simplify lunch items with fresh sandwiches and salads. Hot soups and chilis offer a warm-up and often showcase veggies and protein sources like meat and beans.
For sandwiches, let buyers add their own dressing, toppings and veggies.
Want to offer a hot meal? Consider slow-cooker friendly items like oatmeal (with toppings), chili, and homemade soups.
Wrap up some egg sandwiches, grilled lean hamburgers, turkey and veggie burgers with toppings for a lunchtime hot option.
Can You Improve Your Concession Food Ideas?
Whether you’re a parent who is visiting the concession stand because you’re at a game, or a parent who is a volunteer, or someone in charge, you can make a difference in the food items that are offered.
For one, you can share this article!
Or, you can download my Healthy Concession Stand Makeover by clicking on the yellow box below:
Remember, when you make changes, go slow and offer options.
To get rid of all unhealthy items may dismantle profits, so I am in favor of including an array of food options, both healthy and traditional.
Here’s a good way to get going: Choose 8 to 10 healthy options you can add to your concession stand, such as fresh fruit cups, whole fruit, veggies and dips, fruit and nut mixes, cheese sticks, yogurt, granola, all-fruit popsicles, fruit smoothies, hard-boiled eggs, popcorn, guacamole packs and tortilla chips, and more!
Is the concession stand supporting the young athlete in your life?
For more youth sports support:
[My Program for Young Athletes]: Eat Like a Champion
[My Book]: Eat Like a Champion
[Free Download] 70 Awesome Snacks for Young Athletes — download via the orange button below.
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: November 28, 2018
Updated on: September 20, 2019