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Kids Don't Need Sugary Snacks After Sports

07/21/2014 06:13 EDT | Updated 09/19/2014 05:59 EDT
Juanmonino via Getty Images

It's time to ditch the snack sign up at kids' recreational sports. That's right, I think it's time to finish this unnecessary tradition. I'm good with some traditions, like the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. The post-sports snack sign-up, on the other hand, has gotten a bit appalling in the nutrition department, at least where I live.

The other day, my four-year-old daughter came home from a 60-minute soccer practice drinking a pouch of fluorescent cherry Kool-Aid and eating a bag of chocolate chip cookies (Thinsations! Healthy! I jest, of course.)

Before I go any further, because I'm sure a bunch of you readers are rolling your eyes at my last paragraph, I'll disclose that I give my kids junk sometimes, so this blog isn't about me pontificating about how kids should never have junk food. I was shocked though that someone would consider sugar water and cookies to be a good snack for for anyone at 10 a.m. (okay, anytime, but at 10 a.m., didn't the kids just eat breakfast?) after they do nothing more than run around a bit between bursts of picking dandelions. And this type of snack is nothing new. In the past 3 years of rec sports, I have never seen anything healthier than a granola bar and a juice box (well, except for when it was my turn to bring snack) given after the practice.

Last year, when it was my turn to bring snack to my daughter's soccer practice, I went out and bought bottles of water and fruit. When I got home, my husband scrunched up his face at my offerings and went out and bought juice boxes for the team. He was afraid that kids wouldn't eat my snack, and that sugary snacks are 'the norm' (his words) so bringing something healthy would make us 'that family'.

These kids aren't competing at a professional or competitive level, and even if they were, professional athletes aren't drinking Capri Sun and eating Oreos after practice. Why are our kids, who are signed up for sports for fun but also to get a bit of exercise (we hope), getting a sugar injection with their activity? Do they need a 'reward' just because they were a bit active? What's the point?

Some parents argue, what's the harm of kids having a 'treat' once a week?

To them I say, that's fine -- except that it's not once a week, and I don't want my kids drinking Kool-Aid. Plenty of kids are in more than one sport, and treats are everywhere - birthday parties, school, home, you name it. It's not as though soccer is a special occasion like a party; it's a sport, and it's weekly. Are you getting what I'm trying to say here?

Sports Dietitian Heather Mangieri MS, RD, who works out of Pittsburgh and writes at nutritioncheckup.com, has this to say about the subject of unhealthy after rec sport snacks:

"As a mom myself, this is a huge pet peeve. Kids do not need a sugary beverage and a crunchy snack after a friendly one-hour sports game; they need to go home and eat a healthy balanced meal.

Whether or not young athletes need a snack after activity depends on how hard and how long they played. If they participated in exhaustive activity, they will need something to refuel and re-hydrate. But young kids that participate in recreational sports do not necessarily need anything other than water when they finish activity. What they need is a healthy meal in the hours after playing. If they fill up on low-nutrient foods such as chips, pretzels and sugary beverages they'll be less likely to eat the good stuff their growing bodies need.

The best beverage for kids is water. I see so many young children unnecessarily drinking sports drinks these days. Sports drinks were designed for athletes participating in exhausting activity lasting greater than an hour.

Recovery nutrition is meant to rapidly replace the fuel stores that the athlete used during intense activity. That's not what is happening during a friendly game of soccer at the local recreational center. Skip the snack and head home for a healthy balanced meal."

Would it be such a hardship to end the practice of snack sign-up in favor of everyone bringing their own snack? That way, parents who love Kool-Aid and cookies are free to stuff their kids with garbage. Telling my kids to decline snack at the end of practice is always an option, but I don't feel like my kids should have to be put in that position. I am willing, however, to make a case for ending the snack sign-up and yes, I'm willing to stand up to people who think I'm 'that mom' who is 'ruining the fun' for their kids.

I think that's a lame guilt trip by people who can't possibly think that junk food is a good option for snack but can't bear to not be the 'cool parents.' I sort of feel like the snack sign-up has become like the birthday party craze -- parents trying to outdo each other for the best snack, just like trying to have the best party on the block. Well, I'm not playing, and I know a lot of people who aren't, either, including the coach of my daughter's team who just heard my concerns and has suggested that we end the team's sign-up for snacks. Score!

Kids should have treats sometimes but establishing formal guidelines regarding post sports snacks or elimination of the snack sign-up altogether should be considered in all leagues.

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