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Should There Be a No Junk Food Policy At Sporting Events?

gwyneth-made-me-do-it-logoIMG_0379My son is knee deep in his 4th season of Little League baseball, and it’s been a great experience so far, filled with team building fun, rough housing with other boys, quality time spent outside with his dad, the coach, and lots and lots of crap. Junk food crap, that is.

As is tradition, at the beginning of each season a team-mom volunteers, and with that the snack schedule is doled out. From what I gather, it’s the same type of process in most sports. Each parent takes on the responsibility of bringing a snack for half-time, if applicable, and for post-game. It seems that it would go without saying that those snacks be fitting for the time of day the game takes place, and that they be somewhat nutritious. I’m not asking for Whole Foods nutritious, but some common sense would be nice. Unfortunately it seems, some direction is sorely needed in the field of Little League baseball, because the type of “snack” pictured above is what is continuously handed out week after week. This is, most weeks, not the exception but the rule.

The first couple of seasons I went with it. I let my kids pop open the mini bottles of sugar-filled sports drinks that were passed out, rip open the bags of cheesy chips, consume obscene amounts of candy, all in the name of good fun. It’s a reward for their hard work, it’s a way to refuel their energy, it’s a fun way to say, “Good job!” I went with it because I figured, it’s only once a week — what’s the harm in a little sugar and salt?

But here’s the thing, it’s not just once a week, and unless you all live in a bubble and only get out once a week for one sports game, your kids are getting junk like this on several occasions throughout the week. Between sports games, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, band practice, chess practice, visits with well-meaning grandparents, birthday parties, play dates, even church and school where candy is sometimes used as incentives, kids are constantly being offered snacks, most of which are highly processed and contain dizzying amounts of sugar. When I started taking stock of just how much crap my kids were consuming on a weekly basis throughout all their fun activities, it was shocking. As one friend stated, “I don’t even feel like I can give my kids dessert at home because it’s coming at them from so many directions.” Indeed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for kids needing to snack. While constantly offering kids snacks when they don’t ask for it can easily lead to over-snacking and learning to misread their own hunger cues, for sporting events, snacks can be crucial to the kid’s overall performance and post-game recovery. Most kids are busy little creatures that work and play hard — between school, homework, and extracurricular activities, they need fuel to sustain them in between meals. But that’s just it, they need real fuel, provided by protein, carbohydrates, natural sugars. Not empty calorie junk food that doesn’t offer them a single nutritional benefit, no matter if the package declares it’s baked, not fried.

On another related note, these types of prepackaged snacks can get expensive, and easily add up if you have multiple children in various sports. It can lead to a feeling of needing to keep up and compete for who can give out the funnest, biggest snack bag, leaving the kids grumpy after sugar highs and crashes, and the parents with a big dent in their wallets.

So what’s a concerned parent to do? While I don’t want to approach the team from some moral high ground — and as my friend said, “ask for nutritional perfection” — I would ask for some consideration of nutrition basics. Basically, if you wouldn’t put it in their school lunches, why give it out at a sporting event that is meant to foster healthy habits of exercise and movement? Let’s all agree to scale back a bit, keep it simple, and keep it healthy. Suggestions I was given on Facebook included:

- Fruit salad served in waffle cones and topped with homemade whipped cream — this is perfect because it contains natural sugars, a bit of protein from full fat whipping cream, and a little sweet treat from the waffle cone.

- Homemade popcorn sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and a yogurt tube — affordable, fairly easy to make, and provides something crunchy to snack on and something packed with protein.

- String cheese & a small bag of whole wheat crackers — again, a bit of crunchiness to snack on and protein and calcium from the cheese

- Cereal bars and a few orange or apple slices for morning games — there are so many great options for cereal bars, which are free of sugary icings and chocolate chips and packed with whole grains, and nothing better than simple fruit.

- Homemade muffins or even cookies and grapes — if you have time, make a batch of muffins you can sneak flaxseed into for more protein and Omega 3s.

I could go on and on, and offer more suggestions that are nutritious and affordable, but I think you’ve got the picture. I’m all for treats and having fun, but when you start serving candy and crap to my kids each week, and I have to start pilfering their snack bags first, I become mean mom, not fun mom, and I’m already the bad guy enough at home. Between making them clean their rooms and do their homework, now I have to intercept snacks each week, and something that is meant to be a fun treat becomes a bone of contention. Let’s all agree to get each others backs, okay moms? This job of motherhood is hard enough.

So what’s your view on snacks and at sporting games? Should it be fun and acceptable, or should a no junk-food ban be enforced?

Read more of Andrea’s writing at her blog For The Love Of
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