Soccer Snacks on Steroids: Is THIS Why It Started?

The Real Reason for Soccer Snacks on Steroids?

Remember when soccer snacks were simple orange slices on the sidelines?

Someone’s mom brought a Tupperware container full of them for halftime. You sucked out the juice or peeled the fruit from the rind while getting a pep talk from your coach, then ran back onto the field.

Flash forward a few decades and orange slices have been replaced with Ritz Bits and Goldfish crackers, with bakery donuts and large frosted cupcakes, with goodie bags full of candy washed down with pouches of Capri Sun or bottles of sports drinks. (Read: “Soccer Mom Soapbox“)

This Soccer Snack on Steroids is a relatively recent concept. So how did we get here? How did we go from fresh orange slices for halftime hydration to Krispy Kremes just for showing up?

I was chatting with a friend of mine about this, and she had a theory I found intriguing: Today’s kids are starting organized sports at a much younger age than they used to. In my community, a child can start pee-wee soccer at age 4. Some of these kids are raring to go, jogging up and down the field like a boss. But others aren’t so sure. Their parents are poised with the shin guards, camp chairs, and zoom lenses. But the kids would rather stay home. They need a little convincing.

They need a bribe.

More than a few parents have told me that the junky snack is their child’s favorite part of playing sports. And one of the main arguments I’ve heard against fruit as a soccer snack is that the kids should be rewarded with something “fun” for playing. So are we afraid that without the junk, our kids won’t actually want to play sports?

Is it possible we’re feeding our children junk food in order to entice them to be active?

And if so, isn’t that a little nuts?

To mobilize change in your community, check out the free resources in my Sports Snacktivism Handbook.

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  1. says

    Wow! Hadn’t thought of that take on it, but it completely makes sense.
    My kids are in that very early, just beginning sports age and I want them to play, but only if they really want to. Rewarding kids with food is such a slippery slope.
    Reminds me of adults who will work out and then reward themselves with a very sugary smoothie afterwards. Defeats the purpose for sure. Thanks for posting!

    • says

      Amy–so true about the smoothies (many of which–from the smoothie shops–are loaded with so many more calories than were just burned off exercising!).

  2. says

    YES, it is nuts!! I think it’s an interesting theory. Another reason may be that many of today’s moms work, and packaged/processed snacks and treats can be purchased in advance and don’t require last-minute prep or get mushy. (Though buying whole apples or clementines would obviously solve that problem). It also may relate to the overall sense of entitlement/lack of work ethic seen more in this generation. Many kids have grown to expect a reward or treat for everything they do.

  3. Wende says

    Your last sentence, “Is it possible we’re feeding our children junk food in order to entice them to be active?” Yes! And in my opinion: to entice them to want to go to Sunday School, to run errands with us (to get a lollipop at the bank), to entice them to want to go to preschool, camp, etc. I think this mostly applies to little kids (3,4,5 years old) because as kids get older, it’s their decision to play, not ours. The more I parent, the more I realize that they just want to spend time with us. Playing. “Why can’t we just play ‘family soccer’ in the backyard?”, my kids ask. I think we ought to ask ourselves whether playtime together is what they’d benefit from more. Sure, sports are awesome, especially as kids get older. But while they’re little, are we signing them up just because everyone else does, or because THEY want to play?

    • says

      Wende–you are so right and I am guilty of that with my own kids. We ended up taking our son out of soccer last year because he cried at the games. He was just too young. A year later, he still doesn’t really enjoy it. Will it be hard to not have him playing soccer next year when (seemingly) everyone else is? Yes, but I hope I can go against the tide and focus on what he really enjoys doing–which is being home and playing! And I know that phase may not last very long so might as well enjoy it. 🙂

  4. Joy says

    Also regarding processed snacks over fruit, where I live, it’s often less expensive to buy the club pack of junk food than enough fresh fruit for the kids. It’s deplorable that healthy eating often comes at high costs.

    • says

      Yes, that’s certainly true for some fruits. I like to use bananas as a great example of a very low cost fruit option. You can easily feed the team and siblings for less than $5. And if we stop buying juice boxes/sports drinks, and do water in refillable water bottles instead, that’s a great savings too. But I agree that junk food is entirely too cheap–making it an easy, accessible option far too often! Thanks for your comment!

  5. Regan says

    Well clearly that type of rationale is disordered eating, which of course we know so many people already suffer from. I won’t even go there. Mind boggled.

    I will however share this small success. I decided for this year’s baseball team that while I wasn’t brave enough, yet, to tackle the idea of “let’s just do away with snacks” that I would sign up to be one of the first and most frequent parents to bring snacks. And much to my son’s disappointment, as the 2nd mom to bring a snack I brought bagged apple slices and bottled water. I did cave and tack on a small granola bar option b/c my son assured me nobody would want the apple slices… so I said, “Okay, I’ll give them a choice” (keep in mind, my son will eat apple slices until he’s sick he likes fruit so much).

    And of course, more kids chose apple slices than granola. And of course, no child said anything bad about bottled water.

    Point proved.

    But the even better part? We’ve had other parents — without guidance or mandate — also bring clementines and apple slices. I don’t want to take all the credit but I can’t help but feel like there’s a little bit of “hey… if she did it, so can I” at play. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s an improvement.

    • says

      Thanks Regan. Love your success story. Being the first parent out of the gate with the team snack can really set the right tone. I’ve found that fruit doesn’t even occur to some parents–so when they see someone else bringing it (and the kids eating it), it’s like “Hey, that’s a good idea!” Way to go for starting a trend on your child’s team! (You could also suggest just having everyone bring their own reusable water bottle and forgo drinks altogether! 🙂 )

  6. says

    I totally agree! My youngest one only wanted to play soccer for the snacks – she was very honest about it. So, we quit playing soccer and have moved on to other things.

    • says

      Shirley–I’m sure some kids start playing for the snacks and decide they like it–then hopefully the motivation to play comes from simply liking the game and wanting to play. But I agree, if your child is just showing up for the goodies, probably time to find something else! 🙂

  7. says

    Very interesting theory! Seems like there could be a good number of people enrolling their kid in a certain activity because they loved it themselves or their friends’ kids are in it. Certainly good to encourage physical activity, but better to let the kid figure out what they enjoy and don’t have to be bribed to do.

  8. says

    When I was growing up I hated to hear people say “when I was your age…” or “where I come from…” and I think this whole debate is turning into just that. I have been around youth sports for nearly a decade now. These kids are doing something difficult for anyone and that is getting outside of their comfort zone. In the meantime, their whole concept of playing has changed. Kids have been told their whole life to share and play nice. Now you’re competing and that means pushing and shoving and hurt feelings. The kid up the street or in their classroom is now the enemy. AND, it’s all unfolds in front of a crowd. And don’t even get me started about parents who take games way too seriously! Every season my goal as a coach is simple; I want the players to have fun and to want to play again next season. If giving them a Capri Sun and some Goldfish after the game helps then I am okay with that. That means they were active at the game, they were likely at practice earlier in the week and then they may have even practiced at home too. Plus they were socializing and learning to be a good teammate and competing and all the other positive things that come with sports. I am okay with a reward after that kind of week!

    This debate about kids and snacks seems to be more about adults pushing a parenting or lifestyle philosophy than anything else. We talked about this on our show the other day. My kids like the post game snacks and I have no problem with it. I am in favor of letting parents be parents. Pick something healthy when it’s your week to bring snack. Or, teach your child that it’s okay to say “no thank you” if healthy options are not available or maybe that they will have to wait to eat the cookies until after dinner. At some point the snacks stop and the people get serious and the love of the sport or the competition takes over. Adults get incentives for things they should be doing on their own and I don’t have a problem with kids getting incentives for things like being active!

    • says

      Thanks for your comment Jack. It’s really interesting hearing a coach’s perspective and I like the way you describe team sports for kids–outside the comfort zone of many, competing when you’ve been taught to “play nice” up until then. I know my own kids were definitely confused by that at first. However, we’ll have to agree to disagree where snacks are concerned!

  9. says

    This is entirely plausible, and it gets at what we haven’t loved about our family’s (admittedly minimal) participation in team sports over the years. The whole exercise often feels so regimented and adult-controlled that it saps all the fun out of the experience, particularly for children like ours who are not so athletically gifted that they’ll put up with any amount of drills, laps, rules, etc. just to be able to play. I’ll never forget how excited our daughter was to try soccer for the first time (at maybe age 6 or 7?). By the end of the first practice, , which had consisted entirely of boring drills under the hot Houston son, she was in tears! Entirely missing from the experience was any sense of “play,” and I have no doubt that whatever juice or snack she ate at that practice was the highlight of the afternoon.

  10. says

    Interesting post and lots of good comments, so far. I have a more cynical perspective; it’s about one-upping the other parents as much as anything else. As a coach, I saw the orange slices become cups of fruit salad, then to packaged treats, and finally to homemade cupcakes + a juice box. It became a symbol of parenting excellence/excess more than simple replenishment. The kids—with straight from the heart social graces—claim loudly how awesome the snack is (and in turn, the parent) and the ego is stroked for all to see. Keep it simple; keep it about the kids.

    • says

      Stephen–alas, that may be true for some parents. My husband was commenting to me recently that our parents’ generation didn’t ever worry about being the cool parents–why does it matter to this generation so much? If I’m not seen as the cool parent for bringing oranges (or not bringing a snack at all), so be it. Telling my kids to go to bed at a decent hour and brush their teeth isn’t cool either but that’s my job. Thanks for your comment!

  11. Hanna says

    Wow, interesting, Sally–I hadn’t thought of that before but it seems entirely possible. After reading this post I started remembering how when I was really young (probably around 5 years old), I was on a school soccer team. Some of my friends hated playing soccer but loved fruit gushers, and would beg to be out on the sidelines during games so that they could eat gushers. I liked playing so didn’t want to sit out, but definitely looked forward to the candy… It’s pretty eye-opening for me to remember how kids would specifically ask to NOT play so that they could eat candy during the game.

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