Mom's Kitchen Handbook

Does My Kid Really Need a Soccer Snack?

When my oldest daughter, Isabelle, began playing soccer in kindergarten, I wasn’t surprised to hear there was a snack schedule for bringing food to Saturday games. It was the same when I was a kid. The difference, though, was the nature of the snacks. Gone were the sliced naval oranges and giant cooler of ice water. In their place were pink boxes of glazed donuts, mega packs of juice drinks, and cupcakes.

The practical mom and dietitian in me knew this was the last thing kids need after 40 minutes of soccer. They were snacking on far more calories than they were burning on the field. It’s a sentiment shared by many parents and backed up by pediatric dietitian and mother of four, Jill Castle.

Jill should know. She recently published a terrific and much-needed new book about feeding young athletes titled, Eat Like a Champion (AMA, 2015). It’s a book that should be in the hands of every children’s sports coach along with any parent with an active child. Eat Like a Champion teases out fact from fiction on everything from sport drinks to protein powders. It offers practical advice written in an engaging style with plenty of real world examples to guide parents as they do their best to raise healthy young athletes. 

And so, who better to turn to for advice on the soccer snack than Jill.  Here’s what she has to say, excerpted from her book.

Who Gets a Snack?

Not everyone should get a snack when they exercise, although our present sports-snacking practices might lead you to believe otherwise. It’s a mistake to offer young kids unneeded snacks at practices and games. All athletes can have one or two snacks a day, but a child doesn’t get a pass for more snacks just because he or she runs around the field. Remember Davis, the boy who got snacks both at halftime and after his soccer game? This was too much food. Such snacks end up canceling out the benefits of exercise and often contribute to excessive calorie intake. When this happens, kids also get the wrong message about the role of snacks and exercise. They perceive snacks as a reward for activity. Rather, kids should learn to associate snacks—healthy, nutrient-rich snacks, not treats—with fuel for exercise.

For athletes involved in recreational sports and kids exercising for under an hour, no snack is needed before, during, or after game time. Start the day with a nutritious meal and proceed with regular meals and one to two snacks. If your child wants an additional snack, make it fruit or veggies. This will add nutrition to your child’s day.

Because teens tend to exercise longer and perhaps with more intensity, they typically need a healthy snack before exercise to top off their tank with fuel. Teens need a post-exercise snack with protein and carbs to speed up the muscle–recovery process and help reload the muscles with glycogen when they participate in intense exercise bouts. These snacks help teen athletes get ready for their next exercise session.

Healthy Snacks Rule!

From homemade to whole natural foods, there are endless options for healthy snacks. You should know about good options for packaged snacks, whole-food snacks, and do-it-yourself snacks (homemade) so that you have a variety to choose from based on your available time and skills in the kitchen. Before we get into which foods are good snack options, let’s review how to combine nutrients to best suit your athlete’s needs.

The Best Snacks

The best snacks for athletes showcase a blend of macronutrients, especially carbs and protein. Making sure a source of protein is included automatically morphs a snack from a lackluster offering to a “power snack.” When you think about selecting foods to make a smart snack for your athlete, first think carb + protein or fat. Then think mini-meal. This approach to creating a snack helps keep your athletes’ appetite satisfied, better answers their nutrient needs, and supplies the nutrients they require to both prepare before and recover after exercise.

How to Make a Power Snack

1. Choose a carb. Select whole-grain crackers, cereal, bread, pretzels, bagel, English muffin, pasta, rice, waffle, pancake, dried fruit, 100% juice, raw veggies, or fresh fruit.

2. Add protein. Choose milk, egg, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, deli meat, peanut butter, nuts (like almonds, peanuts, cashews or pistachios), seeds, hummus, or beans.

3. Or add fat. Opt for olive oil, avocado, butter, olives, nuts, seeds, cheese, or whole milk (also contains protein). Remember that many foods such as cheese and yogurt, meats, and nuts have fat built into them.

4. Put your mini-meal together. Once you decide on your food combination, check your portion sizes using the portion guide in Table 5-1. Remember, some foods already have protein, carbs, and fat naturally built in, such as yogurt, other dairy products, and granola bars with added protein. Check out these healthy-snack examples: a milk-and-fruit blended smoothie; a hard-boiled egg and raw veggies; cheese and crackers; dry cereal and dried fruit; pretzels and hummus; yogurt and fruit; deli meat and bread; peanut butter and a banana.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Eat Like a Champion from the publisher.