school wellness

Snacktivism: An Interview with Sally Kuzemchak from Real Mom Nutrition

A few years ago, I got fed up with the Kool-Aid and cupcakes my son was getting after soccer games and vowed to make a change. I began talking to coaches and parents about providing fruit for post-game snacks instead–or even nixing snacks altogether (read: “What If Soccer Snacks Just Went Away?“). One day, a friend jokingly referred to me a “snacktivist”. That’s when Snacktivism was born. What do Snacktivists do? They help counter the current culture of snacking by providing healthier options at sports, after-school activities, church, camp, and anywhere kids eat. Snacktivism is also about asking the simple question: Do the kids even need a snack?

Recently,  I had the pleasure of being interviewed about Snacktivism by Mia Moran for StayBasic digital magazine. Here’s an excerpt about my experience with sports teams:

Mia: How did you approach coaches and parents? Was there any resistance from them, or from the kids?

Sally: A few years ago, I emailed the boys’ soccer coach and suggested we switch to water and fresh fruit, defining exactly what I meant by “fruit”, so parents wouldn’t bring things like gummy fruit snacks or yogurt-covered raisins, which are high in sugar and additives. I made a case for fresh fruit – it’s cheaper, it’s better for our environment, and it’s better for our kids – and I was pleasantly surprised that everyone agreed. Now when I approach coaches I say, why don’t we eliminate the snack altogether? I don’t think kids need a snack right after activities, if they live close enough that in just minutes they will home, and it takes an item off the parents’ to-do list. But kids like to hang around after the game a bit, sharing a snack together, and that’s fine. I approached different sports leagues to change to fruit and water only, but they didn’t want to dictate what parents could bring, so I approached the teams directly instead, and healthier snacking has been catching on. I even heard from people in my community that they’re seeing a lot more fresh fruit on the field these days.

I did get a little bit of resistance. Some people say, “it’s only once a week, a donut won’t hurt.” But if your children are involved in multiple activities, it’s more than once a week. And you also can’t always control how much your kid is eating – did he have one donut or three? I don’t get pushback from the kids, but sometimes I get it from the parents. When I was growing up playing sports, we didn’t even have snacks! Maybe we had orange slices at halftime. It’s the parents who invented this culture of the sports snack. And of course kids love it, because who wouldn’t want to eat Chee-tos or get a goody bag of candy? We can’t expect kids to say, “No thank you on the candy, I’m going to go home and eat a healthy dinner.” But kids love fruit as a snack, and people are on board with making better choices for kids, so overall the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

You can read the rest of the interview–as well as the whole issue–at StayBasic (use your email address to sign up and you’ll get a PDF of the issue).

A little bit about Stay Basic: After being diagnosed with a gluten intolerance four years ago, Mia started a blog about changing her diet, feeding her family, and losing the 65 pounds she’d gained over the course of three pregnancies. Two years ago, she launched the StayBasic digital magazine, which she produces out of her home with a small support staff. “I really liked the idea of creating something beautiful and inspirational for moms wanting to up the health in their family,” she says. “It also gives moms something they can print or save and reference digitally, without having to search too hard.”

I hope you’ll check out StayBasic–and if you’re doing work as a Snacktivist in your community, I hope you’ll tell me about it!

Stay Basic Magazine

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In Praise of Food Activism, Big & Small

by Sally on February 18, 2014

In Praise of Food Activism, Big & Small by Real Mom Nutrition

Have you noticed that regular people are doing some very big stuff?

Vani Hari (aka Food Babe) gets the attention of major food companies by exposing some of the questionable ingredients in their products–and demanding they do better. In response to her widely-circulated blog posts, Chik-fil-A is removing artificial dyes from its sauces and dressings (and switching to antibiotic-free chicken within five years). Her petition (along with Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food) asking Kraft to get artificial dyes out of their macaroni and cheese garnered more than a quarter million signatures (a few months later, Kraft announced they would be phasing out dyes from some of their products too). Now Subway says it’s eliminating a controversial dough conditioner called azodicarbonamide from its breads, an announcement made the same week Hari began a petition asking them to remove it.

In 2012, Bettina Siegel of The Lunch Tray started an online petition asking the USDA to get rid of lean finely textured beef (aka “pink slime”) from school lunches. The issue gained widespread attention from the national media and ultimately led the USDA to start giving schools a choice of whether they wanted beef with or without “pink slime” for school lunches–with most districts choosing to phase it out.

Now Siegel, along with activists Nancy Huehnergarth and Barbara Kowalcykhas, has a new petition asking the USDA to ban chicken processed in China from being served in U.S. school lunches. The concern: China’s  disturbing history of food safety violations, including tainted baby formula and rat meat sold as lamb. If the thought of Chinese processors handling the chicken in your kids’ school lunches worries you too, please join the 300,000-plus people and sign it.

Because the simple act of signing and adding your voice to the chorus makes YOU a food activist too. You know what else does?

  • Asking your child’s preschool teacher if the kids could be served water instead of juice.
  • Emailing your child’s soccer coach about eliminating team snacks.
  • Pitching in with health and wellness programs at your child’s school.
  • Asking the PTA president if fresh fruit could be made available at the school carnival.
  • Organizing your child’s class party and bringing healthy foods.

Every week, I hear from moms all across the country who are trying to make things better, not only for their own kids, but for ALL kids in their communities. They are activists in their schools and neighborhoods, and they’re making meaningful change. And all of these shifts in thinking and policy–no matter how small they seem–can add up to something really big.

Want more ideas on getting started? Read “Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.” and check out School Bites and KYHealthyKids, two moms doing great things in their children’s schools and communities.

Need resources for making healthy snack changes with a sports team (including coach and parent emails you can copy and customize)? Read “Sports Snacktivism Handbook“.

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A Call for Candy-Free Valentines

February 4, 2014

Remember Valentine’s Day as a kid? If your school was anything like mine, you found an old shoebox, cut a slot in the top, and decorated it with paper doilies and puffy heart stickers. You stationed it on your desk at school and made the rounds in the classroom, giggling and dropping valentines in your […]

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10 Food-Free Ways to Celebrate School Birthdays

October 28, 2013

I love cupcakes as much as the next person. I have sweet memories of the birthday cupcakes my mom made for me when I was a child (read “For the Love of Cupcakes“), and I’m sure that some years, she brought those cupcakes to school. But for better or worse, cupcakes at school are on […]

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Will The Real “Healthy Snack” Please Stand Up?

September 23, 2013

I’ve been known to gripe about the state of kids’ snacks (read: “Snacktivism“). I’m so tired of Fruit Roll-Ups, Capri Suns, and Cheez-Its being trotted out for every. single. kid-related. event. And I’m thrilled when I see parents, school administrators, church leaders, and coaches asking for better quality snacks–especially now at the start of the […]

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5 Positively Inspiring School Wellness Ideas

May 9, 2013

This week, I attended the 2013 Nutrition + Physical Activity Learning Connection Ohio Summit hosted by Ohio Action for Healthy Kids and came home inspired by and impressed with the amazing things being done in schools around Ohio and beyond. I wanted to share some of the innovative ideas I heard. Perhaps some of them will […]

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Why Are We Afraid Of Telling Parents What To Do?

April 13, 2013

Lately I’ve gotten a lot of success stories from parents who have joined the ranks of “That Mom”. They’ve spoken up and changed the snack culture in their child’s class or sports team (read “Change the Snack Culture: 3 Steps to Take Now” and  ”Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.“). But occasionally, I hear from […]

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Change The Snack Culture: 3 Steps to Take Now

April 4, 2013

Two years ago, I had a “light bulb moment” about snacking when I saw a mom and her child on the playground one day (read: “Snacking Insanity“). Since that moment, I’ve become much more aware of the snacks my kids are getting–and what I see isn’t good. It’s a problem, and not just in my […]

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Why I’m Worried About Chocolate Milk

March 4, 2013

It’s not for the obvious reasons. Though I get passionate about junk at school parties and junk at school breakfasts (read: “I Have No Love for Candy Valentines” and ”The Trouble with School Breakfast“), I haven’t gotten fired up about chocolate milk. I know lots of people disagree–and I totally get why they do. I’d love […]

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We Ate Junk Food And Turned Out Just Fine…Right?

February 25, 2013

When I talk to people about soccer snacks or class parties or more recently, candy Valentines (read: “I Have No Love for Candy Valentines“), the discussion invariably turns to how how things were when we were kids: “But we had class parties, ate candy, and washed down birthday cupcakes with cherry Kool-Aid. And we turned […]

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