Is It Soccer Time or Snack Time?

by Brooke Bernard on July 13, 2012

On parenting and healthier eating websites all across the Internet, a debate is raging among parents about snacks at young children’s sporting events and in elementary school classrooms. More and more parents are getting savvy about what’s really in those processed gummy bears, Goldfish crackers and Gatorade bottles. And what it is is really scary – proven toxins so dangerous they’ve been banned in other developed countries’ food supplies such as petroleum based fake food dyes, chemical preservatives such as BHT and TBHQ, MSG (often “hidden” under other names thanks to American labeling laws), artery clogging hydrogenated oils and so much more.

These parents, fed up with the recklessness of the food industry and seeking healthier choices for their children, would like to see the phenomenon that is “team snack” abolished. Can’t each individual family decide what’s best for their little ones to eat and pack it for after the game? Is a snack even necessary for a 4-year-old who hasn’t even broken a sweat on the soccer field after watching a ball roll by him for 35 minutes? Aren’t “team snacks” just fueling a societal problem in which children believe they must always be eating – and always eating “treats”? After all, childhood obesity is epidemic in our country – and food allergies and intolerances are on an undeniably terrifying rise.

On the opposite side of the fields, courts and dry erase boards are the parents who not only disagree with eliminating team snacks, but also often feel simply outraged by the idea. On the defensive, many parents wrapped up in the debate seem to think they are being judged when, in fact, it is the toxins in the “food” that are being judged. What’s offensive about saying an M&M is full of chemicals? It’s a fact that M&Ms contain numerous synthetic food dyes linked to behavioral problems – that’s a neurological side effect, asthma, eczema, migraines, depression and much more. Once we know better, we can do better.

Like me just a few years ago, I’m hoping these parents simply don’t yet know or understand what the ingredients listed on food labels actually mean. I hope that they can stop feeling attacked and start to understand what their food choices mean for their children and their families. I know that savvy label reading knowledge was power for my family to change our lives in positive ways!

In the team snack debate, I often hear the argument that healthier choice seeking parents don’t have a “right” to “tell” parents what to feed their kids, but that doesn’t hold water to me. Parents bringing the chemical filled “treats” for team snack or the Valentine’s Day school party are already “telling” parents what to feed their kids and trampling their “rights” to be healthier. It works both ways if that’s the argument we’re going with.

The problem is, as parents and as a society, we’ve got it all backward. Healthy food should be the standard. Because that’s what’s best for the children. Isn’t there something wrong with the big picture when, after the t-ball game, the kids who are eating apple slices and honey are the stand outs while the kids gobbling Swedish Fish are the norm? I simply don’t follow the argument that this healthier standard would be in any way detrimental to our children and their futures.

The other argument floating around in cyberspace is that kids miss out on socializing if there’s no “team snack” because they “just have to go home” after the game. Not at all, actually. If parents bring a snack that is appropriate for their individual children, there is still plenty of socialization. Circle up, sing “Kumbayah” and eat what Mom sent. If Joey has a Ding Dong and Sally has a banana, well, that’s they way the ball bounces. And, as a bonus, I can’t help but think of how compassionate it is and what a wonderful lesson it teaches our kids to not be excluding children with food allergies from the entire team snack experience.

The team sport itself is a social activity. What if we taught our children to be satisfied with that simple fact instead of teaching them that every time they leave the house the experience must revolve around food? What if they believed having fun with friends doing a physical activity was fun enough? Wouldn’t we be doing them a favor by modeling that food is fuel for their bodies, not a reward for doing what they’re told?

The mom who founded the website LittleLadiesWhoLunch.com, an idea site and online community for feeding kids on the go in healthier ways, recently said this on a Facebook thread about this topic, “I don’t think we give kids enough credit these days, and I think we are doing them a great disservice by teaching them that they cannot last an hour without food, that sports drinks have some sort of magical ingredients that hydrate them better than water, that food MUST be present in order to socialize, etc. How about gathering around the water cooler to chat?”

For more ways to make healthier choices or to see more about this debate, check out www.RealMomNutrition.com and don’t miss this article from the mom who got pink slime out of our beef called Please Keep Your Birthday Cupcake Out of My Kid’s Classroom.

How do your kids’ coaches and sports leagues handle team snacks? Has anyone taken a leadership role to request water-and-fruit-only snack policies? How do they address food allergies? What’s worked for your team or family? Should “team snacks” be a thing of the past? Please let the Mamas know!

Editor, writer and mom of 2, Brooke Bernard has been raising her kids synthetic dye-free and dairy-free for almost four years. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrookeBBlogs.

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