Team sports are good for kids, right…?

Sports like soccer, baseball, basketball and lacrosse provide kids with regular exercise, which is good for maintaining a healthy weight, bone development, coordination, and even improved performance in school (read these NY Times articles: How Exercise Fuels the Brain and Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?)  Team sports also teach kids important lessons about sportsmanship, being “coachable,” and the importance of being a good team player.

So some parents might be scratching their heads wondering why their child actually gains weight during the soccer or softball season?  The dreaded “snack” schedule could be to blame. A recent study revealed that kids who participate in team sports consume more junk food than those that do not, read Huffington Post article Do Kids Who Play Team Sports Eat More Junkfood? Check out the sugar and calorie counts of some typical “snacks” that can follow those sports, and it will become crystal clear.   You don’t have to be a mathlete to figure this one out – an 85 pound kid can burn anywhere from 180 calories an hour playing a sport like softball or baseball to just over 400 calories an hour playing full court basketball.  But all of that can quickly come unraveling when well-intentioned parents roll out the post-game snacks, which typically can range anywhere from 250-500 calories.  Not to mention the amount of artificial colors, trans fats, MSG, and sugar kids are getting after the game.  Some experts have linked food dyes to ADD and other behavior problems, read more.

Typical Snack #1:

Totals: 390 calories, 11 g. fat, 46 g. of sugar (over 10 teaspoons), 5 different kinds of artificial colors, and MSG.

Made-Over Snack #1:

Totals: 165 calories, 4 g. of fat, 9 g. of sugar.  This made-over snack saves 225 calories, has close to 1/3 the fat, less than one fifth the sugar, and none of the artificial colors or MSG.

Typical Snack #2:

Totals: 260 calories, 3 g. of fat, 41 g. of sugar., high fructose corn syrup, red 40, blue 1

Made Over Snack #2:

Totals: 235 calories, 2.5 g. of fat, 23.9 g. of sugar (some naturally-occurring).  Saves 25 calories, and over 17 g. of sugar, and none of the artificial colors or high fructose corn syrup.  Provides some fiber and antioxidants too.

Typical Snack # 3:  The birthday/post-game snack.  Inevitably it will be someone’s birthday during the season – why not celebrate with donuts or cupcakes after the soccer game?  This is why…

Totals: 390 calories, 16 g. fat, 53 g. of sugar (over 13 teaspoons!). Contains trans fats, artificial colors and caffeine.

Made-Over Snack #3: You can still celebrate a birthday with a fun snack for the soccer team, just ditch the store-bought cupcakes for some healthier choices that won’t provide a whopping 400+ calories, and 3 days worth of added sugars and trans fats.  Here are a number of options that are healthier and still fun:

If you don’t believe me that these are typical post-game snacks, check out Soccer Mom on a Mission’s Video.  Notice everything from Krispy Kremes to rice crispy treats…

Get the Whole Team on Board

So what is a health conscious parent to do?  Avoid team sports all together?  Grab their kid and run before the snacks come out?  Or just speak up and request that snacks be healthy, or that each parent simply brings snack for their own child?  It’s not always easy to be “that parent” that always is speaking up about this kind of thing.  But more often than not, other parents are thinking the same thing, and are grateful that someone spoke up.  And sometimes, parents don’t realize how many calories, artificial colors, trans fats, and sugar they are feeding kids.  The first step to change is always – AWARENESS.

Unfortunately, no kid wants their parent to be the only one that brings ‘healthy’ snacks after a game, when everyone else is bringing donuts and cupcakes and sodas.  But when the whole team agrees to bring healthy snacks, then no one parent has to stand out as the one that only brings ‘healthy’ food.  When the whole team agrees to follow this plan, everyone benefits – and it could even be the difference between winning the trophy, or missing it by an inch.

A few seasons ago, I was so grateful to Nora, the team mom for my son’s baseball team.  She sent out an email at the beginning of the season requesting that all snacks be healthy and should help to “power up” the kids, not cause a sugar rush and drop.  And instead of the snack coming out at the end of the game – just as everyone was heading off to dinner, she suggested that they should come out in the dugout around inning 4 or 5.  That way, they could boost their energy to get through the rest of the game.  Guess what?  Their team made it all the way to the championship – winning the pennant that year.   How much the healthier snacks contributed, we can’t be sure.  But I can bet that professional baseball players don’t celebrate their games with donuts and sodas, or cupcakes and juice boxes.

Hungry Kids Will Eat…Pretty Much Whatever Is Around!

One of the oldest tricks in the book is to put out the healthy foods when kids are the hungriest – and after a hard game of soccer or basketball, they are going to be hungry. Why not take advantage of it – and put out oranges, bananas, raisins, and other healthy snacks?  This is a great approach for a picky eater too (read 20 Tips for Picky Eaters for more).  Our soccer coach a couple of seasons ago requested orange slices for a half time boost – and all the kids happily gobbled them up each game.  In fact, my daughter didn’t like orange slices until that season – now she loves them because that was what was offered, she was really hungry/thirsty, and all her teammates we gobbling them down.  Oranges are a wonderful snack for hard working athletes, they hydrate, provide natural sugars to replace lost glycogen/energy, and provide important lost minerals.  When healthy snacks come out during or after the game, kid’s bodies will feel and function better, and they will come to expect those kind of snacks instead of the junk food.

Treat Kids Like Athletes

So instead of the donuts, rice crispy treats, and cupcakes; the flavor-blasted chips and Cheez Its; the brightly colored sports drinks and sodas, and sticky sweet fruit treats and candies…let’s try to think about what we reach for after a workout, or what an athlete chooses. When we start to think about our kids as little athletes, and not just kids; that is when we start to feed them better post game snacks. Some good snack “rules”:

Post-game snacks should rehydrate (without artificial colors), replace lost energy & glycogen stores (without overflowing them), and help the body/muscles to heal and recover.  Junk food promotes inflammation, which works against recovery.  Too much sugar gets stored as fat. Artificial colors and trans fats just aren’t needed or good for their hard-working bodies.  Who knows?  Healthy snacks could be the difference between making the All Stars Team, and well, not.

Thank you so much to the parents, coaches, team moms, and bloggers/writers that are speaking up, spreading the word and offering healthy post-game snacks.  Please put your ideas for healthy  snacks in the comments below.

We can all either be part of the solution, or part of the problem. Which team are you on? I think Taylor Mali put it best in his poem, An Apple a Day is Not Enough.

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