Fall is upon us. The children are back in school. Everyone is settling into a routine and many children are playing recreational sports…soccer, football, volleyball, and the like. Most of these recreational sports include snacks, after practice and after a game. Sadly, many of the snacks and drinks served are just highly processed, sugary, non-nutritious ‘food'. If you are wanting healthier options for your little athlete, I have put together a list of healthy snack ideas for kids who play sports!
Every sports program works differently so these healthy snack ideas for kids are just guidelines to fit into how your league runs. Some have healthy snack policies; others are more of a free for all. Often individual families are responsible for team snacks on a rotational basis.
The discussion about snacks and youth sports is very much ‘trending' right now. People are concerned seeing our children bombarded with junk food and sugary drinks after practice and after games. Gone are the days of water and orange slices; they have been replaced with giant Gatorades, donuts, bags of Oreos, Doritos and Capri Suns. Much has been made of tackling junk food on the sidelines, the insanity of soccer snacks and moms on their soccer snack soapbox (myself included!)
What can we do about it? How about bringing healthy snacks?
“We want what is best for our kids. Well, I can tell you what is nutritionally best for kids. These sugary snacks are unhealthy and don't teach kids anything about optimizing their actively, growing bodies. There is nothing I can find in the sports medicine literature that states refueling with simple sugar and trans-fatty acids is a wise nutritional decision. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many other medical professionals and parents I have spoken to, fresh fruit and water seem to be the perfect after-game snack.” Melanie Silverman, RD
I am going to admit right up front that my child absolutely eats (what I would consider) junk food on occasion: donuts, chips, candy, (very, very rarely) McDonalds (gasp!). While I promote healthy, nutritious eating in my home and am a firm believer of ‘you are what you eat', eating real food, 100% of the time is not practical nor desirable for my family. But those types of foods after exercise? Week in and week out? I don't think that is when I want my child eating junk. Nor do I want her to learn that junk food is a reward for exercise.
Some argue that letting kids have junk treats after sporting events is fine…'it's special', ‘it's just a treat'. As I have said earlier (see Is it Really Just a Popsicle?), these foods absolutely aren't ‘just' treats anymore. These children are facing a barrage of processed foods every hour of the day. Every event has some sort of sugary snack as a ‘treat'. And when children are participating in something that is supposed to be healthy such as sports activities, one could ask the question, ‘is it even appropriate to serve non-nutritious snacks and sugary drinks?'
Making a Change
Our soccer league does not seem to have a ‘healthy snack' policy. They have some information on their website about nutrition but I have not seen anything else. If this is the same for you, Real Mom Nutrition has a great Soccer Snacktivism Handbook for how to approach your league and your coaches. In fact, I used her letter as a template to send an email to our league this weekend to press for changes for future seasons! (haven't heard back yet. Will update when I do.)
Professional athletes aren't downing cookies and donuts at halftime. Would you eat a donut or a brownie after a 5 mile run? Or slam a bag of Doritos and Powerade after a CrossFit workout? Of course not. Why should our kids? If this concerns you, here are some suggestions for your little athlete!
How about no snacks? WHAT?! No Snacks? Could soccer snacks just go away? Children playing for an hour don't typically need any sort of snack, especially not a junk food one. Many of these sporting events have become more about the after game snack than the game itself. No child is going to fall over after playing soccer for an hour because they don't have a snack, if they have eaten a proper meal beforehand. Water is generally just fine.
The determining factor is how hard the kids have played. If they have gone all out and done exhaustive exercise or if they will be playing again in 6-8 hours, they need to rapidly refuel. However if they just played a friendly game of soccer and are hungry afterwards, they can go have lunch. Kids bodies are very good at regulating; they know when they are hungry and know to eat when they are. If you put Cheetos in front of them, they will eat them just because…but they’d probably be fine heading home to have lunch. – Nancy Clark Sports Nutrition Guidebook
Often times these games or practices end right around lunch or dinner time anyway. Why ruin a potentially healthy meal with a snack? My daughter's soccer practice ends at 6:30 and I have decided to not let her have the snack as we are eating dinner as soon as she gets home. She can save it for another time (we keep a small bin in the pantry of snacks she brings home that we dig out when we are headed to a movie or something similar).
Plus, having a no snack policy would save us parents so much time and money! It isn't cheap to buy snacks and drinks for a whole team, healthy or not. And, it can be stressful remembering if you are on snack duty (particularly if you have multiple children), inevitably forgetting and racing to the store before the big game. And with so many children dealing with food allergies and intolerances these days, it is hard to buy snacks that everyone can eat! ‘No Snacks' would take a load off of everyone!
I have talked to several parents whose teams have made a no snack policy and it is a relief for all involved and the kids don't miss it.
If your league is having snacks, here are some healthy snack ideas for kids who play sports!
Healthy Snack Ideas
- Water. Period. There is really no reason for children to have anything else besides water after most exercise. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends water as the sole drink for children during sports, except for occasions of “prolonged, vigorous physical activity.” Juice boxes, Gatorade, etc. are nothing but sugar and empty calories. Sports drinks are not necessary.
“Water, not sports drinks, should be the principal source of hydration for children and adolescents.” – AAP
- What about electrolytes? Well, a banana has significantly more Potassium than and is as effective as Gatorade. And as for the sodium, most people's diets have plenty of sodium, that that is rarely a problem for these types of activities. You can always put a small sprinkle of quality sea salt in your child's water bottle if that is a concern. Of course many people like coconut water (homemade gatorade anyone?) or those watered down juice boxes but generally those aren't needed. They would be better choices, however, than a full strength juice, Capri Sun, Powerade, etc. Food Babe has some great examples of how to replace electrolytes with healthier choices.
- Grapes (freeze and keep in a cooler for a fun treat!)
- Orange slices or mandarin oranges
- Frozen berries
- Watermelon or other melon
- Applesauce packets
- Fruit leather (only ingredient is fruit)
- Dried fruit
- Freeze dried fruit
- The choices are endless!
- Snap peas
- Carrot sticks
- Celery sticks
- Cucumber slices
- Dried veggies
- Kale chips
Crackers and Grains
- Whole grain crackers
- Organic versions of cheesy bunnies, etc.
- Whole grain pretzels (like these sprouted pretzel puffs)
- Kind bars
- Lara bars
Nuts and Seeds
This one may not be allowed in certain environments. Always be sure to check what the nut policy is where you are!
- Mixed nuts (with dried fruit and a few dark chocolate chips)
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)
- Trail Mix with seeds, raisins, nuts, etc.
Meats and Dairy
- Beef jerky made with quality ingredients such as Nick's Sticks
- Yogurt tubes (check for sugar content. Freeze for a special treat.)
- Cheese sticks
- Cheese stick wrapped with turkey
Homemade Healthy Snacks For Kids
There are plenty of delicious homemade snacks that can be made for your own family or for bringing to soccer games, practices, get togethers, etc. (Be sure to check that you are allowed to bring homemade snacks. Some schools and leagues require store bought snacks due to allergies.)
Homemade Gatorade from Oh Lardy
Homemade Electrolyte Replacement Drink from Real Food Girl Unmodified
Homemade Citrus Electrolyte Drink from Don't Mess with Mama
Cucumber Mint Water from Food Renegade
Citrus Infused Water from Life Sanity
Fruit Roll Ups
Homemade Fruit Leather (without a dehydrator) from Natural Family Today
Berry Beet Fruit Leather from Eat Your Beets
Strawberry Fruit Roll Ups from Life Currents
Homemade Fruit Snacks from Weed Em and Reap
Sweet and Sour Protein Bites from Butter Nutrition
Raspberry Gummy Squares from Butter Nutrition
Bars and Bites
Frozen Granola Bars from Oh Lardy
Healthy Granola Bar from Oh Lardy
Sweet and Salty Trail Mix from A Happy Health Nut
Chocolate Avocado Nibs from Cheerfully Imperfect
Whole Grain Oatmeal Raisin Bars from Natural Family Today
Raw Brownie Cocoroons from Real Nutritious Living
Gluten and Dairy Free Energy Bars from Raising Generation Nourished
30+ Recipes for Bars and Bites from Attainable Sustainable
Nut Butter and Honey Bananas from Growing Up Herbal
Homemade Beef Jerky from Weed Em and Reap
Homemade Beef Jerky from Oh Lardy
Special Treats (End of Season Celebration?)
Chocolate Chip Cookies from Oh Lardy
Real Food Chocolate Chip Cookies from Weed Em and Reap
Real Food Cupcakes from Weed Em and Reap
Healthy Soft Gingerbread Cookies from Weed Em and Reap
Granola Muffins from Raia's Recipes
Not satisfied? Here are 250+ more healthy snack ideas:
50 Real Food Snack Ideas for Kids from Our Small Hours
75 Paleo Snack Ideas from Paleo.com
100 More! Paleo Snack Ideas from Paleo.com
Healthy Snack Ideas from Real Nutritious Living
Healthy Easy Snacks from Eat Your Beets
What about you? What do you do about sports snacks with your kids?
*I do want to preface that I am talking about children who are playing recreational sports…you know, the hour long soccer games on Saturday mornings; the 45 minute practice on a week night. Children who are playing long practices, intense sports (high school football, cross country, etc.), having multiple games in one day will have different snack needs. Of course those snacks and beverages should also be healthy and not junk food!