Inside: Would you like to see healthy snacks on the sidelines of your kids’ sports? I can help you make it happen!
Many years ago, I had a moment of clarity as I watched my son’s pee-wee soccer team gobble frosted cupcakes, cookies, and chips after a Saturday morning game: Why are kids given so many sugary foods on the sidelines of sports?
The next season, I worked with my son’s coach to establish a fruit-and-water snack plan for the team, which was a hit with parents and players. I did the same the next season. And the next.
If you’d like to do the same for your child’s team, here’s my best advice–plus some free resources for you.
My Best Advice
As a registered dietitian and mom, I’ve helped bring this healthy snack plan to many of my kids’ teams over the years. Along the way, I’ve had a lot of success and watched a lot of kids gobble up orange slices and bananas. But I also hit some bumps and made some mistakes too. So here’s my hard-earned advice for you:
1. Contact your coach BEFORE the first practice.
This is crucial. If you’re serious about making a change on your child’s team, reach out to the coach before the first practice. Express your concerns politely and briefly (use my coach’s letter template as a guide). If the coach is on board with your plan, they can set the tone and the guidelines right away
2. Chat with parents.
Do other parents feel the same way you do? Don’t gossip or talk smack about someone’s cupcakes. But asking other parents, “What would you think about doing only fruit this season?” or “What would you think about getting rid of the snack this season?” will help you find like-minded folks to support your cause.
3. Be the change you want to see.
When your turn comes around to be snack mom, bring bananas, apples, orange slices, or wedges of watermelon. Chips, cookies, and sports drinks have become the default in so many communities that parents are often (pleasantly!) surprised when someone brings plain ol’ fruit. I’ve heard, “Wow, that’s a great idea, I hadn’t thought of that!” many times when I’ve brought fruit. If you bring fruit and it goes over well, other parents may be inspired to do the same. For ideas, get my list of Fruit & Veggie Team Snacks.
4. Be kind.
Emotions run high when you start talking to people about the food they give to their kids. Though you may be frustrated by donuts or cupcakes on the sidelines, try not to bring emotion into it. Never send out a suggestion for healthy snacks once others have already brought chips and cookies. If a parent brings donuts or cookies even after you’ve made a plan for fruit, stay cool. Believe me, it’s not worth getting upset about.
5. Address food allergies.
Are there kids with food allergies on your child’s team? If so, typical packaged or even homemade goodies may not be something the whole team can enjoy. On the other hand, fresh fruit like apples or bananas don’t pose that same risk–and it’s important that a team snack be inclusive for everyone.
6. Be prepared for pushback.
If you suggest changing or nixing junk food snacks, you’ll hear “What’s the big deal? It’s just a cupcake!” and “But the kids are sweating–they need the electrolytes in sports drinks”. So be ready with the facts. Use my Sports Snacktivism FAQ for some quick responses.
7. Appeal to people’s practical sides.
I can’t think of a parent who wouldn’t enjoy something taken OFF their to-do list. Keep “healthy” and “unhealthy” out of the discussion entirely and suggest that the parents all simply agree to skip snacks entirely to avoid the hassle.
Free Resources For Healthy Team Snacks
Below are four free resources for you to use:
- A sample coach email: The best place to start is with the coach. Get the coach on board before the season begins, and you’ll have a much better chance of making change happen.
- A sample team email: Here’s a sample email to send to parents once you and the coach have decided on a team snack plan.
- FAQ to answer questions from coaches or parents: Here are answers to the biggest questions you’ll hear, from “But they’re burning so many calories!” to “But don’t kids need sports drinks?”
- A list of 20 fruit & veggie team snack ideas: This list will get you started with lots of suggestions.
Sample Coach Email
Hi Coach ____,
I wanted to introduce myself. I’m _____’s parent, and we’re all excited about the upcoming season!
I’m writing because I’d like to talk about the topic of team snacks with you. I’m wondering if you would be open to either eliminating the team snack entirely or creating a fresh-fruit-and-water snack plan for our team this season (remember the orange slices we ate on the sidelines when we were kids?). I would love to hear your thoughts on this. And if you decide to go with fresh fruit, I’m also happy to organize a snack schedule for you.
Thanks for all you do!
Sample Team Email
The coach has asked me to organize the snack schedule this season, and we have a great idea: Remember the orange slices we all ate on the sidelines when we were kids? Let’s bring back them back! We want our kids to play sports so they move their bodies, burn off energy, and be strong–so let’s give them a snack that keeps them healthy.
Here’s what the coach and I are asking of you: Every child brings a water bottle, and parents take turns bringing fresh fruit for after the game. This fruit snack plan benefits everyone because there’s less cost (when it’s your turn to bring snacks, you are only in charge of bringing fruit, no drinks) and less mess (no packages to pick up, no juice pouches in landfills). It also means they’ll be hungry for lunch or dinner afterward.
Feel free to bring any fresh fruit you’d like (please wash it so it’s ready to grab and eat).
Some ideas: Orange slices, bananas, apples, peaches, pears, watermelon slices, grapes (cut into small bunches), berries or melon balls/chunks in paper cups.
With this snack plan, our team can set an example for the whole league. We all care about our kids and want the best for them, so let’s do something great for their health!
Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.
Team Snacks FAQ
Fresh fruit has a little bit of carbohydrates for energy and lots of water for hydration. And kids simply need more of it: 75% of 6-11 year olds don’t get enough fruit. And on any given day, 25% of toddlers and preschoolers don’t eat a single bite of it.
What if I don’t have time to wash and cut up fruit?
Grab a bunch of bananas. It takes the same amount of time to grab those as it does to grab a few boxes of gummy fruit snacks. They’re cheaper, too.
What about sports drinks? Don’t kids need those after exercising?
Actually, no. Sports drinks are designed for endurance athletes. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that most kids need only water to hydrate during and after sports. Those drinks just add a lot of extra calories (plus sugar and dyes). Kids can replenish any lost electrolytes at the next meal or snack.
But our kids are burning off a ton of calories on the soccer field, aren’t they?
Kids burn off far fewer calories in team sports than we think. According to a recent study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the average 8 year old burns only 150 calories in an hour of sports—but the typical after-game snack has 300- 500 calories.
My child won’t eat fruit. Why don’t’ you just bring some fruit for your kid?
You’d be surprised at the effect that positive peer pressure has on kids. They’re more likely to eat something new or different if they see their friends chowing down on it too. But if you’d prefer that your child have something else, that’s okay too. Give it to them in the car on the way home.
Why do we even need snacks?
We don’t! If all of the parents are in favor of eliminating snacks, let’s go for it. Less hassle for everyone.
20 Fruit & Veggie Team Snacks
WHOLE FRUIT IDEAS
- Bananas (budget friendly!)
- Clementines (easy for little hands to peel)
- Peaches or nectarines
CUT FRUIT IDEAS
- Orange slices (tried and true)
- Watermelon cut into wedges or sticks (here’s how to cut watermelon into sticks)
- Fruit kebabs with grapes, melon, and strawberries
- Kiwi halves: Give spoon to scoop out the flesh
FRUITS & VEGGIES TO GO
- Paper cups of berries
- Paper cups of cherries
- Paper cups of carrot and celery sticks
- Pre-packaged bags of baby carrots
- Paper cups of pineapple chunks
- Packaged fruit cups (+ spoon)
- Paper cups of melon balls
- Small baggies of grapes
- Mini boxes of raisins
- Packaged applesauce cups (+ spoon) or pouches
Nice letter Sally. I volunteered to be in charge of snack sign up and will use your ideas!
Love that you’ve coined a new term: Snacktivism. I’m stealing that immediately.
Bummer, I already sent out snack schedules and info for the season! This would have been great two weeks ago for me. I feel like I would just be bossy if I changed things a couple weeks in. I’ll remember it for spring season though. Thanks!
Liz–sorry I was too late for your schedule. But it’s never too late for you to bring something healthy! 🙂
I share your opinions on sport team snacks and you are right on the mark in your other article – people don’t always like change! I used to be more of a ‘snacktivist’ but have backed off because it feels like an uphill battle. Yesterday (before I came across your blog) I wrote to the president of our local rec league asking that we completely remove snack schedules from our teams. In my opinion, even fruits can be problematic for various reasons so I think each parent should bring or not bring what they see fit and the team sport should just be about the sport. Kids can bring water but ‘re-fuel’ on their own. I think this course would please everyone and also remove a lot of hassle from the parents & coaches trying to figure out what to bring for everyone. Great blog – thanks!
Thanks for a great blog and letter. My daughter has played soccer for several years and I am so disgusted with the idea that we reward our children for doing something good for their bodies by plying them with junk and sugary drinks that they don’t need. After our game last weekend, my daughter got a rice krispie bar and a bag of candy. Seriously?? Even if fresh fruit isn’t an option, there’s a variety of dried fruit out there (and/or nuts if allergies aren’t an issue.) Just go to Sprouts or Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s carries raisins and dried korean shingo pears that would be perfect for games. I know, however, that if I handed out pencils or fruit after a game, I’d be the most unpopular mom on the team. Oh, well!!!
Thanks Lisa! Sorry to hear about that snack. Yikes. I wonder if your girl’s team might like something fun like fruit kebabs. They are a little fancier than whole fruit, and what kid doesn’t like food on a stick? 🙂
Alright! I am now the soccer coach for my son’s 3&4 year old soccer team. I just made an PDF showcasing fruit and water as our “Super Soccer Snacks.” Thanks for the great stats and resources. We’ll see how parents react next week!
Alli–terrific! Please keep me posted!
Hi Sally! Me again! This is AWESOME!!! I really hope that my girls’ teams will get on board with this! I had them bring orange slices last season for half time (like back in the day!), and asked for 100% juice after the game and a “healthy” treat. It all went pretty good, but I LOVE your letter, and LESS in total!! Everything here is awesome, and I am going to pass it on to the commisioners of both leagues — fingers crossed that they will pass it on too!! Awesome, awesome job!!!! Thank you so much!!!
Melissa @ My Whole Food Life
LOVE this!! My daughter starts soccer tomorrow and I have had nightmares about the junk she will be offered. Thank you for this post!
Thank you so much for this post- I am coach and team mom of my daughter’s soccer team, as well as a healthy eater. The snacks drove me nuts, but your letter got the message across in such a positive way. I sent it out to my team, blogged about it, and pointed people back to your site for even more ideas!
Anna Marie Finley
Hi Sally! You’ve offered up some great tips for helping parents advocate for healthy snacks for their kids playing sports. Thought it would be great to share with you and your readers that the Healthy Kids Hub is a website that provides hundreds of resources – (much like your sample letter to parents) – to help out-of-school time programs develop the healthy habits of snacking smart and being more physically active. Check it out at http://www.healthykidshub.org!
Anna–awesome! I will definitely check that out. Thank you!
I just used your template to email our local town Athletic Director to ask that they replace “fruit” roll ups and “fruit” gummy snacks after practice with real fruit. Crossing my fingers! Thank you for the template!
That’s terrific Trinity! Let me know how it goes. My fingers are crossed too!
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Great timing! We have three boys in sports and I am going to encourage this at the first practice. I think another plus is that this will eliminate parents vying for the, “Best, Most Expensive, Sweetest, Fanciest Snack Ever” award. My boys do not need multiple snacks, nor do they need them in fancy bags with embellished nametags. Keep the cost down and keep it healthy!
JoAnn–AMEN to that! Let me know how it goes. I hope your child’s coach is receptive–that can make all the difference. I also like the option of no snack at all–eliminates the need for parents to do anything but show up with their kids and a water bottle. 🙂 Good luck!
This works well for soccer teams I’m sure, but for 300 cross country runners you can see how it would get very pricy. I’m all for no treats or parents can bring their own. My son knows not to eat garbage, so he always asks (even at 13) if he can have something. Sometimes I let him take something and have it after dinner, but most times he doesn’t want it. If you’re not giving them this food at home, chances are they aren’t going to want it elsewhere either. Just my thoughts. 🙂 The cc team always has a large water jug. The treat of choice are those disgusting sugary ice pops. I get it, it’s hot out, popsicles sound good…but when we make our own at home…ugh. lol I do let him occasionally take part, like I said, but to feed an entire cc team of 6-8 graders oranges, would be way expensive. I say no snack or bring one.
Janis–in that case, I totally agree that a team snack isn’t feasible! That’s A LOT of oranges. 🙂
Most parents agree that having our kids in sports a good thing for them physically and socially. What mot parents aren’t aware of is the ingredients used to make snacks that are promoted to our kids (“More Money Is Spent in Advertising Than The Actual Ingredients Used). Whole vegetables & fruits always have been and will be the best for our Children’s health. If you are concerned about electrolytes eat grapes with seeds or orange slices. If your not worried with your Child eating processed & junk foods, look at the complications of chronic health conditions. 20 years ago there was a commercial asking what would you do if you couldn’t run and play with your Grand Kids. Know the question soon will be “What Will You Do If You Can’s Run & Play With Your Own Kids”. Complications Due To A Chronic Health Condition, Blindness, Loss Limbs, Totally Immobile, this is the possible future a lot of children will experience in the early 30’s.
just what I was looking for – thank you!!!!
Any thoughts on low fat chocolate milk as a “recovery” snack? I live in Wisconsin & the dairy council promotes the low fat chocolate milk. Seems to me. It is not a bad idea – some sugar, but less than dried fruit and other sweet foods or drinks.
Hi Pat–Chocolate milk can be a good recovery drink because of the balance of carbs and protein it contains. That being said, pee-wee athletes don’t usually need a recovery drink. A good lunch or dinner after a game is enough to replenish nutrients. If your child is playing more competitively/for longer and more intense periods of time, chocolate milk can be a fine drink to incorporate–but again, you can also get carbs and proteins from other foods and drinks as well. Hope that helps!
Do you have any posts or suggestions for daycare? I provide breakfast lunch and snack for my kids but it seems like there are some months that have four or more birthdays and they bring stuff in i never want my kids to have. I cant manage anymore and most of the time there is no notice to bring our own. Id rather they eliminate treats all together or limit it to fruits.
Quianna–I don’t have any specifically for daycare but I do have a post about food-free ways to celebrate birthdays. Maybe the teachers would be open to trying something new. Here’s the post: https://www.realmomnutrition.com/2013/10/28/10-food-free-ways-to-celebrate-school-birthdays/
I really love this. I was also not interested in giving junk to my kids and also worried they are easily getting tires after few minutes also and not sure how to handle the scenario. your thought is an eye opener for me specially.
Thanks a lot , i would follow this strategy.
My 6-year-old’s spring soccer league never mentioned anything about snacks before the season started, so I was surprised to discover the coach and his wife handing out (juice and junk food) snacks to the kids after every practice/game. I’ve never seen any written policies about snacks, so I’d like to email the league coordinator about creating a (healthy!) snack policy for the 2017-2018 season. It’s a league that serves a lot of kids — 2,400! Have you or any of your readers tried working with people at the league level to implement snack policies? Any advice?
Hi Anne–I have gone to the league in my community for soccer and baseball/t-ball. Unfortunately I struck out both times. In both leagues, the feeling was that the parents should be allowed to do what they wanted in terms of snacks. That’s why I’ve tried to work with each coach we’ve had along the way and hoped it would catch on in other teams. For the baseball league, I collected comments and letters from parents who were in agreement with me. That’s something you could do to show that the opinion is more widespread that just you. You could also draft a sample policy. My advice would be to find out who is in charge and approach them in the spirit of helpfulness and gratitude for the (likely volunteer or not-highly-paid) work they do with the kids and community. If you move forward, I hope you will keep in touch and let me know how it goes!
Thanks for your reply and advice!
I love this post Sally!! I will definitely be sharing and utilizing this with my kids and their sports teams.
This is wonderful. Do you have something similar for teachers. My 1st Fraser is being rewarded with candy at school “everyday” and I’m completely not “ok” with this. Any ideas how I can approach this to his “seasoned teacher”?
Hi Karina, I have two resources for you. The first is a post I wrote about non-food rewards for the classroom: https://www.realmomnutrition.com/15-food-free-ideas-for-classroom-rewards/
The second is an e-book I wrote about improving the snack culture/junk food culture in a variety of settings including school, camp, and sports: https://www.realmomnutrition.com/snacktivists-handbook/
The e-book provides talking points to use when speaking with teachers about candy in the classroom.
Hope that helps. Good luck–I know that situation is very frustrating!
Thank you so much for all of your work doing this!! I’ve just started writing up my own templates to help my sons team and other friend’s teams, and so glad I came across your ideas!! You rock!! My motto was also “bring back the good ole’ orange slices!’
Another angle I have used in addition to the work you have done, is that so many kids these days have food intolerances/allergies/restrictions and preferences that it makes like so much easier to just offer fruit. That way kids won’t feel left out if they can’t eat the snack.
Amy–that is great to hear! I hope you have success with your son’s teams–please keep me posted on how things go!