It's time to dunk the munchkins


youth sports snacks soccer

It’s that time of year again when Indian summer eases into Fall, leaves change color and fall, and soccer fields are filled with young kids running around, kicking the ball and...eating donuts?
Melissa Joy Dobbins, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, went to her 5-year-old son’s first soccer game recently and shortly after the game was over, the celebration began. Donut holes and orange juice boxes for everyone!
“This was my son’s very first soccer game – but my daughter is 13 and played soccer for years so I knew from experience that the (unnecessary) post-game snack probably wouldn’t be very healthy,” she said. “But I was shocked when I saw them handing out donuts! It seemed so extreme.”  
While customs exist in the world of youth soccer, none is as strong as the snack. Whether it’s served at halftime or after the game is over, snacks are central to the soccer experience. In the morning hours, breakfast type snacks such as muffins, cereal bars and yogurt sticks are passed around. In the afternoon, chips, desserts and candy may show up.
The intention is usually good: to celebrate, reward or feed the tired and hungry athlete. But the truth is, from a nutrition and growth standpoint, most kids don’t even need a snack. They don’t burn enough energy (calories) to warrant a snack, only torching about 100 to 200 calories after an hour of soccer. Not only that, making the association of food and playing a sport sends the wrong message.
Parents are divided on the issue of snacks. Some enjoy watching their young child celebrate and enjoy the camaraderie of a team snack. Others don’t want their child served junk and would rather see fruit. Some want the freedom of choice, and want the snack tradition left alone. And still more question the need for a snack at all. There certainly are a lot of emotions surrounding the soccer snack!
“The nutrition aspect is only one issue,” says Dobbins. “I think using food as a reward actually bothers me more. It’s a slippery slope when we use it as a reward.”  
As a nation with an unquestionable issue around childhood obesity, and a strong and growing participation in youth sports, throwing snacks (especially unhealthy ones) into the mix defeats the positive benefits of exercise. In essence, we erase nearly any benefit from exercise with donuts, and other sweets, snacks and sugary drinks. (Get some ideas for healthy game day snacks.)
“If parents insist on snacks, then we need to be more thoughtful about what we’re offering,” says Dobbins. “These extra snacks or treats really do add’s an opportunity to teach or model to children good nutrition and healthy habits.”   
What do you think about game time snacks? What side of the soccer snack camp are you on?
If you are interested in revolutionizing your team snack policy, check out these helpful tools including a snack letter to the team.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

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