With school back in session, kids across the U.S. are heading to the field to play football, baseball and soccer after school and on the weekends. They’ll definitely need healthy food to give them energy, help them focus and improve their performance, but do kids really need snacks after sports?
When my daughter was 4-years-old, she started playing soccer for our town’s league. Watching preschoolers play soccer is the cutest thing to watch and I was so excited not only because she was playing sports, but also because she was learning new skills and teamwork, getting challenged and feeling pride in her accomplishments.
Every Saturday, the team met at 10 o’clock in the morning for 30 minutes to practice followed by 30 minutes to play the game. Even though they were young, these kids were pushed to hustle and they worked hard.
But let’s be honest: they weren’t running a marathon.
And I wasn’t keen on her filling up on packaged, processed snacks right before lunch either.
Empty, extra calories
Yet offering snacks after sports negates the health benefits because it puts back the calories they just burned. Not only that but what these kids usually eat are empty calories and snacks filled with sodium and sugar: Goldfish crackers, pretzels, cookies and juice. Not exactly the type of food you want your kid to re-fuel with.
A reward for hard work
Offering snacks after sports also seems to imply that we’re giving kids a reward for a job well done. We tell them work hard and have fun, and afterwards you’ll be rewarded with food. It’s no wonder as adults many of us reward ourselves with food when we’ve had a bad day, are stressed out or even after a hard work out.
Teaching kids from an early age that food is a reward only reinforces that belief when they become adults. In our culture where everyone gets a trophy for effort, we should be teaching our kids why they need to work hard instead of motivating them to do so with food.
Snacks for team spirit
I understand that sharing snacks after sports is part of fostering camaraderie. In the U.S., food is a mainstay for any occasion whether it’s to discuss a business deal, to celebrate a happy event or to mourn the passing of a loved one.
But in sports, the sport itself is the activity and yet we make food the activity as well.
If team building is the goal, why not have a healthy lunch afterwards? Or take food out of it altogether and have the kids play a fun game or work on a project together.
Snacks after sports: a tough call
My kids are still young but for older kids, I suppose the snack question depends on the activity, how long they’re exercising for and the intensity. For example, a basketball practice might warrant a snack but if it’s after school, it’s only logical that they’d go home to eat dinner. If they’re on the field all day, they’ll need to refuel but bringing a package of crackers or chips isn’t the type of fuel they need.
When I posed the question on Facebook, one mom told me that for high school field hockey, the kids had cookies and trail mix. Another mom said for high school football, the kids eat bananas and ice pops.
I think it’s always important to remember that kids won’t pass out or die if they don’t eat right away. Hunger is a natural feeling and one they should have before a meal or after a work out.
I never told my daughter she wasn’t allowed to have the team snack. Although I didn’t agree, I didn’t want to take part of the experience away from her. Yet when it was our turn to bring the snack, I brought cut-up apples and water bottles. “Thanks, apples are my favorite,” one girl told me.
This past spring when both of my daughters played soccer, I suggested we bring orange slices and water. “But the kids won’t eat that,” my 4-year-old said.
But it didn’t matter to me whether they ate it or not.
I didn’t feel right bringing something in a package after what was supposed to be a healthy activity. Perhaps I even inspired a few parents to upgrade their menus at home.
Although some of the kids passed on the fruit, most of them ate it—even the coach.
My daughter handing out oranges after soccer.