It’s spring and many outdoor sports are getting into gear. My older son Zane plays soccer and for many seasons we have been asked to bring snacks to the game for the kids to enjoy as a treat. After the game is a nice time to share a snack and socialize with players and their parents. Often the parents rotate snacks and we have seen a variety of choices from fruit to prepackaged cookies to sweet drinks. Although I try to do my best with cooking healthy meals, I myself have given in to choosing processed, prepackaged snacks that are cheap, easy, and will please the kids.
Last week, after joining a new soccer league, the issue of snacks came up again. One of the moms, knowing that I am a healthy eating enthusiast, asked if I would come up with a list of healthy options for snacks after the games. The parents and coach of our team finally decided not to have snacks, but many teams do still do this, so I thought this was a good topic.
Consider these points when choosing snack for after sports:
- Young children do not burn THAT many calories when playing a sports game. The image that comes to my mind is of six year-old soccer players on “defense” picking dandelions and chatting for most of the game (I have watched my son do this for many games as a younger soccer player!) Why give kids a 350 calorie snack when they might only be burning 100 calories during that game?
- Some kids may playing sports to help control their weight. I have often suggested to parents of overweight patients that an organized sport might be a good way to have fun, get exercise and help their kids lose weight. By providing high calorie foods after games, we are not helping these kids achieve their goals.
- Many prepackaged “snack” foods are highly processed and full of artificial ingredients. We should be providing our little athletes with good nutritious foods, even if it’s an after-game treat.
- Sugar-sweetened drinks like sports drinks often provide calories without much nutrition. Most young kids are not playing hard enough and sweating enough to need electrolyte replacement anyway. Water is an acceptable drink for most kids doing recreational sports, a statement echoed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- There are alternatives! We can still reward kids for a great game with a healthy snack.
Here are some of the ideas I came up with for healthier after-game snacks to share with the team:
- Fresh fruit: Buy apples in a variety of colors and slice them up. Put slices of each color in a zip-top bag for each player. Chilled orange slices work great.
- Frozen grapes-This is a fun cold way to enjoy grapes. Throw these in a cooler and pull them out after the game. Kids will be thrilled to see how fun and sweet they are!
- Raisins or other dried fruit. If there are no nut allergies, consider making your own trail mix bags for everyone. Use a mix of dried fruits and nuts.
- Applesauce: Musselmans makes a version called “Totally Fruits” which has no high fructose corn syrup and comes in fun flavors like peach, pomegranate and raspberry acai. Serve chilled with a spoon after the game. About 48 cents per serving.
- Juice only frozen pops: “Whole Fruit” is a brand I found which uses mostly fruit and some sugar (but no high fructose corn syrup). Edy’s makes a fruit bar that is similar in ingredients and price. Great for cooling off on a hot day. About 60-80 calories and 60 cents per serving.
- A homemade cookie: Maybe not the lowest choice in sugar or fat, but you know exactly what is in it, and it does not have a shelf life of 5 years! Cookies are a good way to pack nutritious ingredients, too! See our recipe for Magic Banana Cookies for an example of a homemade cookie that’s wholesome with no sugar added. The potassium in the bananas will help with tired muscles too!
- Energy Bites: See our recipe for Pumpkin Energy Bites, made with whole food ingredients. They are naturally sweet and pack a punch of energy for your athlete.