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Easy and Healthy Snack Ideas for Athletes

I’m so committed to healthy snacks for kids, including after team sports, that I simply can’t just go with the flow and buy single-serve processed foods for the team. Every time it’s our turn to bring the after-game snack, I give my kids choices for healthy after-game snack ideas.

Last baseball season, my 8-year-old, Gabe, immediately decided he wanted to make power balls. These are dried fruit and nut balls, somewhat similar to a Larabar in ingredients but rolled into balls.

Gabe and I got to have some quality bonding time making three different flavors, and he was so proud to share them with his team. I had a little sandwich bag for each child with one of each flavor in an opaque, lime-green bag. I grabbed a handful of baggies and was trying to hand them out to 7- and 8-year-olds after a baseball game.

power balls a healthy sports snack

The kids would bend over and pick up a juice box from the cooler, cringe or scowl at it, and then look to see what snack they were getting. They might take a bag out of my hand, and at least half of them proceeded to peek into the lime green bag. I felt like they were looking to see what else there might be–hoping for something, anything that they would recognize!

I kept cheerily saying, “We made you guys power balls! There are three different flavors!” and then listing the types excitedly. I kept up the happy face, but inside my heart was dropping.

I finally realized exactly why parents buy single-serve processed foods when they’re feeding other people’s kids after games.

  • Kids recognize packaged foods.
  • The pictures on the outside always look the same.
  • The food on the inside always looks the same.
  • The food on the inside always tastes the same.
  • The children know exactly what they are getting.
  • And I don’t know about you, but when it comes to food in my experience, kids don’t really like surprises.

I finally felt completely connected and empathetic to other parents, realizing that they just want to give kids something they recognize so they don’t have to stand around and explain the food. Nobody has time to explain the food after a baseball game when the kids are rushing off to get home because it’s already 8:30 at night. I get it … but I still won’t do it most of the time.

In my first post, I talked about all the problems with team sports snacks and built a solid argument on why we should just cancel them all. However, I know that’s not the reality many of us live in.

If you’ve tried and failed or didn’t get a chance to try canceling snacks, you’ll likely take a turn to feed your kid’s sports team. If you have a real food sensibility, what can you bring that won’t make you feel icky inside?

That’s what this list is for: bring this not that for healthy after-game snack ideas.

Would You Bring Fruit for an After-Game Snack?

Typically when I get in online conversations about sports snacks for kids, half of the people say, “When I was a kid, we had orange slices at soccer and that was it.” Personally, I lived in a community where we did not have soccer, so I don’t have that experience, but it sounds pretty universal.

One mom in my community shared that she was surrounded by chips and cookies at a big sports tournament, but when she brought out a bowl of cold watermelon slices, they disappeared in 60 seconds. Kids know what is refreshing! Another mom shared angrily, “I’m the weird mom who brings Cuties and water. Kids get so mad!” One mom tried to give Oreos at halftime at a kid’s soccer game. “Not my kid!” she said.

See how easy it is:

oranges and oreos

Fruit can be on the pricier side depending on what you choose, but here are some ideas for single-serve fruits for kids:

  • oranges, either unpeeled clementines or large oranges cut into wedges
  • grapes, washed and bagged in individual servings
  • apples cut or uncut (I do this a lot in the fall when Michigan apples are in season and budget-friendly)
  • bananas (but be prepared for scowls, because bananas are boring)
  • berries, if you have some kind of unlimited food budget 😉
  • frozen fruit (I can see this being a hit on a hot summer day if you have a really well-insulated cooler and can keep things frozen. Imagine a little Dixie cup of frozen berries after a game. I’d be in heaven, and so would my kids!)
  • pears or plums or other palm-sized, in-season fruits. Again, be prepared to explain it if it’s not something kids see every day.
  • fruit cups in 100% juice – ALDI is a great place to get these on a budget
  • Don’t forget dried fruit! Raisins are still somewhat budget-friendly and can refill kids’ energy quickly.

Some of those ideas take some prep time, while others are just as quick as buying individually bagged Goldfish.

apples and goldfish

High-Protein Snacks for Team Sports

We know that nuts and dairy are wonderful high-protein foods, and it breaks my heart that so many kids are allergic to nuts and allergic or sensitive to dairy.

Please be sure to check with all of your team’s parents before bringing most of these ideas. Completely avoid anything to which a child has an allergy; because as I said in post number one, we’d hate to exclude our little team members and make them feel down for the whole day.

high protein healthy snacks

That said, if you can bring them here are some great protein-based snacks, some of which you can serve with zero effort and others are homemade recipes:

  • string cheese or other single-serve cheese
  • single-serve yogurts if you can get them without food coloring and too much sugar
  • trail mix or other bags of nuts
  • peanut butter (or other nut or seed butter) in which to dip celery, cut apples, or crackers
  • almond flour crackers
  • crispy roasted chickpeas (definitely be prepared to explain that one though!)
  • homemade energy balls or bars (see my ebook Healthy Snacks to Go for many recipes)
  • single-serve cottage cheese
  • jerky or meat sticks (I would love to give all the kids a Paleovalley meat stick, but my budget would worry that they might hit the trash)
  • hummus or nut butter in which to dip carrots, other veggies, or crackers
  • sunflower seeds

At least that last one is very popular for baseball players, so you could definitely get away with serving sunflower seeds and not having to explain it. Anything you make homemade, though, be prepared to make labels or provide explanations.

When it came to our power balls after the baseball game, the coach and a couple of parents thanked me and said they would be enjoying them instead of their child.

Crunchy, Healthy Snack Ideas for After the Game

Although it may not be as refreshing as fruit or as rebuilding as protein, sometimes kids do just want something crunchy. Here are some ideas as an alternative to cookies, pretzels, and the infamous Goldfish crackers.

crunchy snacks
  • whole grain crackers
  • other crackers with better ingredients
  • single-serve chips in avocado oil such as Jackson’s Honest or Boulder Canyon (again, gotta have the budget for those)
  • popcorn – a very budget-friendly option if you make it homemade and put it into simple brown bags
  • organic tortilla chips

What am I missing? I feel like there are other crunchy, healthy options to feed our young athletes. Carrots are crunchy … but I don’t know if kids would embrace them.

For some other ideas and homemade recipes, I have an entire post on high-protein snack options and another on great snacks to feed your kids’ brains for testing. Here of course we’re feeding our kids’ bodies, but a lot of the nutrients cross over.

Healthy Snacks To Go eBook

If taking real food on the go is a challenge for you, you’re not alone.

Join thousands of other happy owners of Healthy Snacks to Go, an eBook that is helping real foodies everywhere keep their families nourished (and kids happy) even when they need to pack a snack — without resorting to processed junk food or expensive health food store treats.

With over a dozen different “bar” recipes alone, including many that are grain-free and contain zero refined sugar, I guarantee you’ll find a new family favorite in Healthy Snacks to Go.

Healthy Drink Ideas for After the Big Game

My friends, I hope I am in a safe space to say here that 3-year-olds should never need Gatorade and 8- and 9-year olds who are barely sweating also don’t need to replace electrolytes. Please, for the love of our kids, stop with the Gatorade!

I must say that I have been thrilled to see over the last 5 or 10 years that parents are finally getting the message that kids shouldn’t really drink their sugar. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, the pendulum swung in a very strange direction.

I blame processed food marketers. I believe they read the market and saw that parents were eschewing sugary drinks. They still wanted to sell something; and although parents will buy bottled water, there’s probably a bigger markup on fancy bottled water that speaks to what kids want, which is flavor and sweet.

Enter the onslaught of artificially sweetened drinks marketed to kids. This breaks my heart for so many reasons, and we’ve talked about it already.

But what can we bring if we don’t want to get our kids Gatorade or Propel or other artificially sweetened drinks? I’m so terribly boring! I have been known to bring a large jug of ice water and Dixie cups. Most kids say no thank you. But they also have all survived.

electrolyte drinks

I’ve occasionally made our homemade Gatorade recipe, but I do think that goes over better in a group where everyone knows you and there’s some trust built. Most kids didn’t really get it and might say no thank you anyway.

Plus, so many people are leaving the game immediately that they’re taking the drinks home with them, so they don’t really want an open cup. Please tell me you see the irony here that we are giving other people’s kids drinks and snacks that they end up just taking home with them anyway, instead of eating them right away!!

If you feel like you must bring something sweet and Gatorade-like, BodyArmor is an electrolyte drink at least made with real sugar and without artificial colors or sweeteners.

One of my writers, a nutritional therapist, shared an awesome recipe for homemade SmartWater. I yearn for the day when I could make this for all the kids after a sporting event. I just don’t think it would be worth my time, effort, and money, do you?

If boring water doesn’t sound like your thing and you’d rather not make something homemade that would just flop, here are some better-than-terrible options that will allow you to bring a drink without added sugar and without food coloring:

  • 100% juice boxes – ALDI and Costco are great places to shop for these
  • Capri Sun Roarin’ Waters – although these do contain stevia :/

Wow. I knew beverages for kids were tough, but that list seems exceptionally short. What am I missing, parents?

watermelon and popsicle

Sure you can buy bottled water and just keep it cold, but in my book that’s just wasting plastic.

So many well-meaning parents grab something like Propel, not even realizing it’s artificially sweetened. Breaks my heart.

If I want to replace electrolytes for my kids, they get a glass of pickle juice. I’m not quite sure how that would go over … but I understand that sometimes in Texas, you can buy pickle juice popsicles at sporting events. So maybe there’s hope after all!

(Did you know that most pickles have artificial colors? It seems nothing is safe …)

In the summer, when I’m not feeling bold enough to bring homemade Gatorade, I’ll actually pack the juice-based popsicles that come in the sleeve and serve kids that instead of a drink. They still get hydration, and it’s fun and recognizable. Plus no added sugar if you know how to read your ingredients. Costco often sells them on sale at the beginning of the summer.

Bottom Line: Let’s Teach Our Young Athletes How to Fuel Their Bodies for Sports

When it comes to feeding kids before and after sporting events, let’s commit, parents, to be intentional about taking the opportunity to teach our kids how to fuel their bodies. They need hydration, yes, but does it need to be sugary? Only if they’ve expended a lot of energy do they really need to replace carbohydrates through their drinking.

You can explain to kids from about age 8 or 9 and up what electrolytes are, that we sweat them out, and how we can get them back into our bodies. This includes throwing a pinch of salt into your water, especially if you use high-quality salt with lots of minerals like Real Salt.

(By the way, Real Salt also makes an electrolyte mix, but all the flavored versions do include no-calorie sweeteners. Not artificial, but still not my favorite for kids on a regular basis. We only use them for the kids occasionally when we are hiking in high heat.)

kids playing sports

Kids can understand that certain types of foods will give them more energy than others. You don’t have to get deep into nutrition, but we also don’t have to dumb things down or assume that kids can only handle fun foods in celebration.

(If you do want to get into the depths of nutrition, I highly recommend Mary Voogt’s Nutritional Navigation course. This is perfect for homeschoolers or any family who wants to override what your kids are being taught at school about what they eat.)

Let’s continue building up this post with ideas other people can share. Fill the comments with anything you brought that was a success for an after-game healthy snack for kids.

To you, my good parents, I raise a glass of pickle juice. Cheers!

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

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