Emphasize Sports …. Not Snacks

Dr. Hanson, Pediatrician, Meriter West Washington

Dr. Hanson, Pediatrician, Meriter West Washington

For many families with school-age children, summertime is the season of endless sport practices and games, which is a great thing. It’s wonderful to get your kids out and moving around as much as possible; however, as my children are now at the ages when we’re starting to juggle the various schedules, I’ve also become aware of one of the downsides of children’s sports – the “after-game snack” (sometimes even “after-practice snack.”)

For example, one of my children was on a team that had twice-a-week games or practices that were in early evening, either just before or just after dinner. In my eyes, this is not a time that a child needs a snack – they should either be full from dinner or else be on their way to a meal. Yet, some of the initial communication from the coach informed the team that there would be snack sign-up for each practice and game.

One issue with this habit is that many parents seem to elevate the snack into something more. One time, my child’s practice ended with a snack for each team member that included a cheese stick, a rice krispie bar and a juice box. It was very generous of the family who brought it for all the children, but the portion was too big! This is not a snack … this is a mini-meal that contains about 1/5th of the calories that a child needs in a day. This summer, we’ve also had snacks of full size ice cream sandwiches, twice. Yes, these are fun, yummy desserts, but they have no nutritional value and are high in calories and fat. Is this really what parents want to teach their children to eat after exercising?

Now, I don’t want to seem like a total party-pooper or a crazy health-nut, but as someone who takes care of a growing population of children who are overweight, one of my interests is trying to educate families on healthy lifestyles and what habits we’re teaching our children about food and exercise. It’s frustrating to me that we’re sending kids the message that they need a snack after sports. My son expects to get a treat after each practice and game and talks about it before hand, sometimes even more than the game itself.  This isn’t because he’s hungry (he does it even if we just ate dinner), nor because he’s exercised really hard (running bases a few times doesn’t burn that many calories). It’s because he’s a kid, and he won’t turn down junk food.

Here’s my proposition to the parents and coaches out there – do away with the team snack. I don’t see it as a team-building activity. (In my experience, the kids grab the food and leave. No one stays to eat it together.) Go ahead and plan a special treat for the last game – it’s okay to have a treat for the special occasion, but don’t teach the children to expect a treat every session.  My husband was a coach for one of my daughter’s sports teams, and we actually had parents thank us for NOT doing team snacks.

If you’re a parent who feels pressured to participate in team snacks (such as I did), bring a healthy snack, and be aware of the portion size. There are lots of easy options:

- a small box of raisins

- cut up fruit (oranges, apples, strawberries, pears)

- grapes (try freezing them, they’re extra refreshing)

- ants on a log (celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins … just make sure no one is allergic)

- cut-up vegetable sticks with hummus or ranch dip

- plain rice cakes spread with peanut butter (again, check for allergies) or cream cheese

- small portion of pretzels

Feel free to bring a big bowl of the cut up fruit or a tray of veggies – it’s hard to grab-and-go with these sorts of foods, so it actually will do a better job of team-building than the pre-wrapped treats. It is okay if you don’t provide juice – the kids don’t really need it and water is better after light exercise. Try to keep the emphasis on the sport, not on the snack.

Carleen Hanson, MD
Pediatrics
Meriter West Washington

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