Cupcakes, cookies and chips used to be reserved for birthday parties and special occasions. But somehow these sweet treats have found their way onto soccer fields across Cobb County, and that has two local nutritionists crying “foul!”
By Jennifer Hafer | Photography by Katherine Frye
“Everyone wants to be the cool mom who brings the chocolate-covered rice crispy treats, but the problem is, obviously, this is the worst way we can help our children,” said Marietta nutritionist Betsy Thurston, a registered dietician. “Most parents want their kids to be happy with them, but I think parents need to risk a little bit and bring a healthier option.”
Rule No. 1 for healthier after-game snacks, according to Thurston: Avoid packaged, processed and refined foods. Also, look for a lower sugar variety in the snack of your choice or choose fruit.
“Anything that doesn’t have a million ingredients is one way to judge the nutritional value of a snack,” she said. “You should devise every snack based on protein and color; it’s that simple.”
Even though fruit is high in natural sugar, the skin of an apple is high in fiber, which aids in digestion and helps keep kids fuller, longer.
“Juice boxes are the worst,” Thurston said. “They can have the same amount of sugar as a Coke.”
Even chocolate milk can be a better choice for a post-game snack because despite the sugar, it has some nutritional value, providing calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
“As parents, we’re the gatekeeper, and it’s our job to provide the food,” she said. “Parents need to evaluate this culture where we have to reward kids with ‘fun food.’”
Another Marietta nutritionist and registered dietician, Julie Brake, of Positive Nutrition, advised if parents must bring that sideline staple of Gatorade, choose the smaller bottles for older players, 11 and up, but the younger ones don’t need it at all.
“If the kids are sweating a lot, Gatorade can be helpful, but it was invented at the University of Florida and made for college athletes on the football field,” said the UF graduate. “I found in my own children, if you bring water bottles, they don’t turn them down.”
Good carbs like plain crackers or animal crackers will help restore energy spent on the pitch, according to Brake, and good proteins like cheese sticks are useful for muscle rebuilding.
“I like the idea of offering at least three different things, so if their bodies are hungry for the protein, that’s what they’ll choose,” she said. “Fruit can be a really good snack as well because fruit is carbohydrates and carbohydrates give you immediate energy so you don’t feel fatigued.”
It’s also important to eat a balanced diet as a matter of routine, so young athletes’ bodies have the resources they need come game time, Brake said.
“Kids are pretty intuitive about what their bodies need,” she said. “If we just give them healthy options and let them decide what and how much, they’ll do OK.”
Fruits: Provide carbohydrates, which gives an immediate boost of energy. The skin of apples is high in fiber, which aids in digestion and keeps kids fuller longer.
Chia seeds: Whole grains with antioxidants more powerful than blueberries that also contain fiber, protein, calcium, and omega-3s. (Add them to granola or other treats).
Oats: Are high in fiber and a variety of minerals.
Nuts: Rich in energy, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids.
Cheese: Provides protein that helps with muscle rebuilding. Also has nutrients calcium, zinc, vitamin A and B12.
Quinoa Oat Granola Bar
1 cup oats
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons Chia seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ripe mashed bananas
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/3 cup raisins or cranberries or craisins
1. Combine all of the above.
2. Meanwhile, on the stove, warm:
1/4 cup almond butter or
2 tablespoons honey or
maple syrup 3. Blend with oat mixture; press in a parchment-lined 8X8-inch pan; heat 25 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Courtesy of Betsy Thurston