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Kids’ Sports Snacks Are Out of Control

Even though I write and teach about food, I don’t always post a lot of beautiful food photography on social media. However, it turns out that if I post simple photos like this or this:

standard team sports snacks

I get insane conversations on Instagram and Facebook. Those are just a few of our collected sports snacks that we don’t let our kids eat. People always want to know why, or they commiserate instantly with me that they feel the same way.

Parents are fed up with the quantity and quality of sports snacks being fed to our kids. We are definitely ready for a change–such as people in my community who say things like, “On what planet is a ring pop a snack?” and “Why am I the weirdo for bringing healthy, clean snacks?”

I started collecting notes from people back in 2021. We had all seen a glimmer of hope during that first year of the pandemic! When children’s events were completely canceled, it felt incredible to be able to simply feed our own children as we saw fit. And when sports first came back, most of the time snacks felt like a no-no. So for a brief shining moment, people stopped feeding other people’s kids at every turn. It was one of those silver linings of the pandemic that I clung to with great optimism.

Alas, my hopes were dashed when sports snacks for kids came back hard and fast. In fact, in 2021, many people reported that it was the worst season ever. It was like the black hole that was 2020 in sports caused people to experience the rubber band effect: pulling back from restriction and snapping forward at warp speed right into the hands of the processed food companies and their marketing budgets.

When I say that I think kids sports snacks are a problem, I’m not just blowing hot air. Let’s take a look at what our kids are often fed when they sign up for a sport and the myriad ways that this can impact their mental and physical health as well as their habits and routines

Traditional Sports Snacks That Need Help

Based on what I’ve seen in my experience raising four kids along with stories my community has shared, let’s look at some of the snacks kids are often served by well-intentioned adults after they play a sport:

  • cookies
  • chips
  • pretzels and other crunchy, nutritionless items
  • cookies dressed up as crackers (Teddy Grahams and similar)
  • donuts
  • cupcakes
  • cupcakes dressed up as muffins (just look at the sugar count and tell me a muffin isn’t a cupcake…)
  • granola bars held together by high fructose corn syrup
  • popsicles
  • fruit snacks
  • candy dressed up as fruit snacks

And how about you? Did I miss anything? Do you have anything to add on the problematic team snack list?

And then of course there are the drinks. These are either highly sweetened, packed with artificial colors and other additives, artificially sweetened, or at best fruit juice with no fiber that probably ought to be served as an occasional treat for kids but has become part of the culture.

More fresh on the scene are drinks with added vitamins and minerals. Are we really letting other parents serve our kids supplements? I can’t even imagine the overdose of vitamins some kids get when they regularly drink things like SmartWater or some of the Gatorade competitors with added vitamins.

And why, might you ask, are these snacks on my X list? Let’s explore.

sugary team sports snacks

Team Sports Snacks Are Often Packed with Sugar and White Flour

We can’t all agree on how we feed our kids. That’s for sure! And the thing is, as you’ll see if you keep reading, I don’t think we need to.

In my book, I side with the American Academy of Pediatrics, where they recommend that kids should have no more than 24 grams of sugar in a day. In reality, I’m not a fan of counting grams on a daily basis; but the research is clear that our human bodies do not need simple sugars, and I for one don’t want my kids building the habit of eating sugar all the time. I don’t want their bodies to be expecting it and set them up for a lifetime of potential chronic diseases of civilization.

White flour, in many cases, is metabolized similarly to sugar. It’s not something we’ve identified that any of my kids have a serious problem with, although we have some suspicions–and we are pretty sure gluten doesn’t treat my husband well. Since we don’t have any real allergies, though, I’ve never felt right in requesting that a whole team change what they serve to fit my family.

I feel really good, however, about requesting that people stop feeding each other’s kids. Nutrition is one reason, and allergies are certainly another.

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Do Team Sports Snacks Exclude Kids with Allergies?

We live in a society where excluding people is very much frowned upon. We want everyone to feel included, be included, and be treated the same. That means that the moment we introduce team sports snacks, kids with allergies have a problem.

Sometimes coaches ask about allergies upfront and are very good at sharing that information with others. Sometimes it’s up to the parent to be bold enough to share, and other times the message just isn’t disseminated well.

Imagine being a child in a group of people where everyone is celebrating and eating food or drinking a drink and you can’t participate. It would literally make you sick. Instead of lifting your spirit, your mood is thrown down into the dirt. For some kids being left out can wreck their entire day.

So perhaps the solution is to make sure that all parents respect other kids’ allergies. This is a partial band-aid on the overall problem; and for kids with really serious allergies, it still may not be enough. I would never trust another parent’s ability to read ingredients if they weren’t trained in what could hurt my child. So there’s always a chance that something will be brought in that an allergy kid would have to skip.

In the context of team building, and the purpose of youth sports, which ought to be to build a team dynamic, excluding kids when it comes to snacks just seems backward. And you know what? Even if every snack perfectly fit my idea of health and nutrition and avoided every single allergen on the team, I still would rather cancel team sports snacks than keep them going. The reasons continue…

kids running track

It’s Just Unnecessary to Eat at Every Sporting Event

When kids are playing a game for an hour, or maybe two hours, sometimes they might be hungry immediately afterward. Sometimes they might not! Our kids certainly do not need to be fed at every event they attend. When we do this, we are really creating a disordered habit of eating.

We are teaching kids that they should be able to eat all the time, without time boundaries. We are teaching kids that food must be fun, and that it should be tied to every celebration. And we are likely teaching kids that they don’t need to listen to their cues of hunger or fullness when they decide to eat–they should eat when people hand them food.

My friends, this is so unnecessary and such overkill embodying perfectly the disease of excess that has taken over our modern society.

I Don’t Like Other People Feeding My Kids at Youth Sports

To carry on the theme of overkill, it just seems as though in a free democratic society, perhaps we can all make our own choices. I would so much prefer to keep the task of feeding my children within my own control. I’m very happy to allow other parents to feed their own kids. We never have to agree on our nutritional stance, and we don’t have to have any arguments.

I can speak freely here online about ways in which I recommend other parents feed their kids. People can listen or choose not to. If we would just feed our own kids, we would have so many fewer problems.

muffins and sugar

Are Sports Snacks a Drain on Our Time, Energy, and Budget?

When it comes to canceling team sports snacks entirely, I can also take a really practical stance. I feel like families get so busy already, so over-scheduled that I wonder if we really need one more thing on the calendar.

Do we really want to plan a big snack and make sure we grocery shop in time for the whole team? It’s hard enough to feed our own families, and since most of the time these snacks are unnecessary and overkill, we are just adding to our busy schedules and our to-do lists.

Besides that, single-packaged snacks, like the sort you would share with the whole team, cost more money than what you might buy your own family. Sure, lots of parents buy single-serve snack items to send with their kids to school–but that’s their choice. When we ask everyone to bring team snacks for other people’s kids, they must either spend extra money on single-serve packages or spend extra time to make something homemade.

That’s another can of worms entirely because the homemade snacks don’t usually go over very well. Plus, if a family has real-food sensibilities like mine, and their little hearts just don’t let them buy junk food, even to feed other people’s kids who might not care, that means they are going to spend a good deal of money on healthier food that might just get thrown away.

Once again, it’s expensive enough to feed our own family as well … and it seems like a lot to ask that we feed other people’s kids.

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A Treat Is Not a Treat When You Get One After Every Sporting Event

Some members of the community in our lovely social media conversations have pointed out that when snacks occur at every single event, kids tend to expect them. If a snack is not served, children feel jaded, like they’ve missed out on something, even though they most likely will have enough to eat that day.

If the snack served is not to their liking, some of these potentially entitled children don’t even say thank you. Granted that’s on each parent to train their children in their own family values; but when we make a treat something that always happens, it really isn’t a treat anymore. I’d love to reduce our entitlement opportunities for our kids.

Besides that, some folks have pointed out that sports snacks can cause real discord between siblings. When one child gets a snack and another isn’t in the sport yet, the younger ones often whine and complain, get jealous, etc. Then the parent either has to deal with that (which is good for us, to teach our kids that life is not always fair) or they might feel pressured to buy a similar snack for the younger children. This is a minor problem, which is why it’s going last, but for some people, it can be the final drain on their energy for the day.

kids playing soccer

But What If Kids Really Do Need a Snack after a Sport?

Well, what do you think? Have I laid out enough points to form a solid argument that we should simply cancel team sports snacks?

A good friend of mine reached out one August when we were having a string of 90-plus degree days here in Michigan. She had been a referee for her child’s soccer game and pointed out that sometimes the kids really do need hydration, and there are events where parents really may need help feeding their kids.

For example, when kids are running back and forth on the soccer field in truly hot temperatures for 90 minutes, they have sweat enough that it may make Gatorade a decent option. When kids have all-day tournaments and perhaps their parents aren’t even able to be in attendance, maybe it is a situation where team snacks or team meals need to be considered. I absolutely see my friend’s point.

However, I still say that we should feed our own kids except in exceptional cases. If the parents are typically there watching a game, regardless of the high temperatures, they ought to be able to pack their own cooler or simply go home and eat and drink. We can decide in our own family if our child needs to replace electrolytes or get some carbs because they’ve burned off so much energy.

In the end, I feel like when we just serve kids whatever we think they want to eat to have fun and celebrate, we adults miss a grand opportunity to teach kids about fuel. We miss the opportunity to teach them how food fuels their body and how they feel differently when they eat different things.

One community member related the tale of a baseball doubleheader. It was another parent’s turn to serve the snack between games, and Doritos were the “treat” of choice. Instead of refreshing the boys, this mom reported that during the second game the players were absolutely sluggish and the game ended with a loss. She complained justly, “How do I tell a grown adult that Doritos are not a wise choice for that scenario? I can navigate nutrition, but I can’t navigate the other parent interaction around sports snacks.”

So what’s a well-meaning, intentional parent to do?

My Proposal to Fix Sports Snacks

Because we will never all agree on a nutritional philosophy … because we will never all have the same budget or the same snack schedule at home … because different children in different situations will need different amounts of fuel to recover … the only way to avoid parental discord and allow families to have autonomy over their kids’ nutrition is to cancel sports snacks altogether. What a novel idea!

What would the world be like if we all simply fed our own children?

What if we all put some ice in a reusable water bottle and filled it with whatever we wanted, or grabbed a Gatorade on the way out, or stopped at a convenience store to buy a single-serve package of chips and a soda? What would sporting events look like if kids didn’t get a “treat” after every game?

Note: I do understand that there are families whose budget simply is stretched too thin, and they really do need help feeding their kids. That is not the issue here, because it’s generally not in the purview of team sports that we serve our underprivileged members of the community. Let’s leave that to school breakfast and lunch discussions and nonprofits who help support these families.

If you’re on board with my proposal to cancel team sports snacks, you will probably have to take action the next time you sign your kids up for a team. I recommend sending an email to the coach the moment you know his or her contact information. You’ll want to intervene before the snack signup is sent out or even discussed. The best way to change a system is under the radar.

Here’s a sample email you can adapt.

“Hey, Coach,

Thank you so much for volunteering to lead our kids. Not everyone can do this, and all of us parents are very grateful that you stepped up. Thank you. I have a little idea for you that might make the season a bit simpler and hopefully won’t cause any problems. What do you think would happen if we just skipped the snack and drink signup? I know these days parents choose to feed their kids really differently, and it might just be easier If we all brought our own kids snacks and drinks (or not, if they don’t need them). In a practical way, it’s one less thing for you to do and keeps parents’ to-do lists just a little bit shorter. I also know that allergies and sensitivities can be a big deal these days, and I’d hate for anyone to be left out just because another parent doesn’t really understand what to buy to fit that child’s needs. I hope you’ll think about it, and if you want any more information, I’m happy to help. Thanks a ton,

SIGN YOUR NAME”

Of course, you can send a much shorter email omitting any of those reasons. Sometimes it works just to say, “Hey, Coach, what if we skipped sports snacks, that would be easier for you, hey? Want to chat about it?” Or something like that. I have to admit that I keep forgetting to send this at the right time. Once the snack sign-up is out, it’s far too late. Then you make waves and people notice.

However, at least once the coach has agreed, and especially because of allergies on the team, we just canceled snacks for the season. And you know what? No one died. No one cried. I don’t think anyone was even deprived. And the parents didn’t complain, at least not publicly. Glory hallelujah!

If your kids’ team coach is worried about dealing with negative feedback, you could offer to be a buffer and take the flack as much as possible. Remind parents that they can still feed their own kids and use food as a celebration however they want. Most people are pretty supportive of simplifying life.

RELATED: Cutting weight for wrestling with a real-food mindset.

trail mix with nuts

Bottom Line: Let’s Feed Our Own Kids in Team Sports

Obviously, I’m a huge proponent of canceling team sports snacks and feeding our own kids for the following reasons, just to remind you:

  1. They are unnecessary.
  2. They may create disordered eating habits.
  3. It’s overkill.
  4. Allergies can exclude kids.
  5. We are all too busy anyway.
  6. We don’t need to spend that money on other people’s kids.
  7. Generally, the snacks are way too unhealthy.
  8. We open the door for entitlement and sibling rivalry going on.

Unfortunately, you might try to convince a coach to skip snacks and completely fail. In the next two posts, we’ll talk about what to do in your family when other people feed your kids and ideas for when it’s “your turn” to feed the team a snack after a sporting event.

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

10 thoughts on “Kids’ Sports Snacks Are Out of Control”

  1. Agreed! Even on a completely selfish level of avoiding the anxiety of what to get everyone and avoiding judgement. Sometimes I DO want to treat my kids and sometimes I want them to eat something really healthy and it feels like you get judged either way. I have had this discussion with several people lately in a variety of situations. Thankfully, my daughter’s preschool teacher told me that for her birthday it was ok to even bring in a bag of apples and cheese. I ended up going woth some organic yogurt squeezies.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. When my kids were in team sports this frustrated me on all the levels you explained.
    I so agree.

  3. I couldn’t agree more and would love to extend this to the elementary school birthday treat too. It was wonderful during the pandemic when no food was allowed to be brought in. I can’t stand the constant stream of candy with food dye. It gives our kids headaches and my little guy suffers beahaviorally. It’s constantly bumming up against us being the “bad guy” or dealing the consequences of letting them indulge. So over it.

    1. 100%! I kept saying the one silver lining of the pandemic was that people stopped feeding other people’s kids. Headaches seem like a reallllly good reason to tell teachers junk candy is a no-go for your family! 🙁 It’s so tough because I hear you, we don’t get to treat our own kids when others are constantly doing it. 🙁
      We’ll keep trying!!! <3 Katie

      1. The teachers are in that awkward middle. Ours have been extremely supportive and I know it’s uncomfortable for them to tell parents no. Some are more willing than others and I really feel for them. It would be so much easier on them if it was school wide and came from administration.

  4. I completely agree with this!!! Let us feed our own kids, no matter who it is! I feel like this philosophy should also be extended to church and other get togethers as well (like if you attend a home school co-op). This post was well said and correct, Thanks.

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