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4 Problems with Snacks at Sporting Events

Children’s sporting events provide an extreme window into the temptations of childhood eating. The culture of snacking at these events is ingrained and almost a ritual.  Reversing this culture is an uphill battle and one that requires parents and sports organizations to survey several issues.

Healthy kids get physical activity every day!
Healthy kids get physical activity every day!

For parents who are interested in the quality of snacks at sporting events, it may be wishful thinking to expect healthy items like fruit or vegetables–they are not the norm.  Rather, parents are more likely to see chips, crackers, cookies, sugar-sweetened beverages, and desserts shopped around to their little athletes. If you are trying to focus on feeding your child in a healthy manner, sporting events are often a land mine of high sugar, high fat, nutrient-poor food items that will sabotage your healthy eating efforts!

Issue #1:  Do kids even need a snack at a sporting event?  When did we buy into the idea that kids need to eat their way through a soccer game? Sure, if your child is playing an active game, in the heat, and for over an hour,  a re-fueling snack and fluids to maintain energy, focus and hydration makes sense.   A granola bar, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, or a cheese stick is helpful and healthy—cookies and donuts are not.

Issue #2:  Why do adults think that children want sugary, high fat foods when they play sports?  Aside from the LACK of nutrients they provide, they do little for enhancing a child’s sports performance. Most children at recreational sporting events do not need this–a nutritious breakfast or lunch will do the trick.

Issue #3:  We are sending the wrong message.  Play a sport and get a food reward.  Eat sweets at the end of a game.  For children, sporting events have turned into a means to an end–eating treats.

Issue #4:  Many drinks at weekend games are inappropriate for children.  Drinks are often laden with added sugar–think juice boxes, Capri Sun, Koolaid, soda, etc.  Children’s bodies need water.  What about Gatorade or similar drinks?  Again, if your child is running and sweating for more than an hour, sports drinks can be helpful in repleting lost nutrients such as sodium, chloride, and potassium.  Many children are not “sweating it out” like this until they are at the high school level.

Encouraging children to be active is part of being a health-oriented parent and raising healthy children. Physical activity is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy body.  Feasting after physical activity seems to negate its positive effects and promote untimely and potentially excessive eating.

My own child said to me once, “Mom, if I bring orange slices for snack, everyone will be disappointed”.

I have vowed to be the boring mom who brings the healthy snack to the soccer game.  Someone has to be a role model and take the heat…I mean lead.  I invite you to join me.

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  1. Hey Jill, one of my Facebook friends posted this, great site! Isn’t technology great that we can disseminate such great info in such an easy manner!

    This post really feeds (no pun intended) into my passion, better choices everyday for healthier living. I am a father and a former Pro Soccer player who understands how nutrition plays such a role in the body’s performance and overall health, and I want to convey that to families everywhere.

    Beverage choices have really been the critical issue with youth. You mentioned Gatorade as a good option to replenish, but even some of these electrolyte drinks have high or the wrong sugars. I guess education on the right choices is all we can do…

    All the best and keep up the good work! We should chat sometime, I am starting a new venture with several Doctors and Pro/Olympic athletes and are always looking for the right people to partner with.

    1. Thanks for reading, Bill! Appreciate your thoughts…if we could just get away from the soda and sweetened juices first…:)

  2. It pains me to see some of the snacks brought to not only sports game but any school activity where the snack is parent-provided. When kids need a snack, it is because they need nutrition not empty calories. Feeding kids junk food when they need energy only fuels the crash to come. And the more we give them junk food, the more they come to expect and crave it.
    Don’t stop the snacking, just change the snack!

  3. Great post. Yes, I was always shocked at how the kids on my daughter’s soccer team expected juice boxes and cookies and/or chips after each game.
    It was always refreshing when a mom brought orange slices, grapes is a great idea, I never thought of that!

    1. It’s interesting how sports snacking for kids is different in other parts of the country. When I lived in the Boston area, we were only allowed to bring orange slices; here in Nashville, it is quite different.

  4. Great timely post! I didn’t even realize snacks were part of soccer practice until my kids started last week. But, I was relieved to see the orange wedges come out and the kids gobble them up (thankfully, we live in a very hippie & healthy town!). I volunteered for future snacks just in case, however 🙂

    1. Yes, isn’t it funny how kids generally will eat what is provided…especially if they are hungry! Orange slices, apple slices, watermelon, grapes….are all easy, portable and healthy for the child who needs a snack after a sporting event. Glad to hear you will be setting the standard with snacks!

  5. I am not there yet with my kids but I see this at my nieces games. The kids are chowing down chips after playing softball for one or two hours. I think the responsibility for snacking should be on individual parents like it was in my day. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    I, too, will be the mom that brings orange slices.

    1. Yes, the snack issue is something that sports organizations can certainly set a standard….but parents have to show that they value healthy snacks. You don’t want to be the parent who tells your child “no”. We need to help parents be “yes” parents…to healthy options, of course.