What’s up with kids half time sports snacks?

This is an advice column written for www.stuff.co.nz published 21 November 2017

My 9 and 11 year old are into their team sports. However, at half time, the coach brings out lollies from the Natural Confectionery Company like snakes and fruit chews. When I was at school 15 years ago it was all about the orange wedges at half time. What’s happened? I am concerned this unhealthy snack doesn’t send the right message. Does it really matter? Is there anything I can say to the other parents?

No matter what the advertising says, I think everyone knows lollies and sweets are simply empty sugar calories (artificial colour and flavour free or not) that offer no nutritional value.

You’re absolutely right, offering an unhealthy snack like this doesn’t send the right message and we should be concerned. We should also be concerned that rewards and prizes at sports games are often fast food vouchers because of fast food company sponsorship.

Our kids are exposed to junk food marketing daily. Research findings released last month shows that New Zealand kids are exposed to 27 unhealthy food advertisements a day, on average. This normalises junk foods, promotes a society that normalises obesity and encourages behaviours that lead to obesity.  Almost one third of New Zealand kids are overweight or obese.

We don’t need encourage or justify the idea that it’s OK to have junk food just because they participated in sport. This sets up a ‘junk food as reward’ mentality which can cause a whole set of other problems in the future.

We need to be taking every opportunity to inspire our kids to make nutritious food choices that set them up for life, just as playing sport and being active does.

And it’s not just about being fat. Poor food choices have far reaching consequences. Every cell in your body is literally made up of what you eat – your hair, skin, nails, your muscle, bone, organs and brain. It affects mood, behaviour, concentration, learning capacity and development. Promoting nutrient dense foods allows your kids to grow and develop to their full potential.

You can get them to exercise all you want, but they will never out-exercise a bad diet.

Back to the half time snacks scenario. It is arguable that cutting up oranges is time consuming, that the acidity in the oranges could be bad for tooth enamel (surely no more than sugary sweets though) or that kids simply don’t want to eat oranges.

If kids are eating shortly before or after the game and games are short, half time snacks might not be needed at all, and they can just be encouraged to drink water and re-hydrate, staying away from sports drinks or other sugary drinks.

If half time snacks are needed, consider some other easy ideas:

Other transportable and easy to eat fresh fruit or vegetables – apples, pears, bananas, mandarins, grapes, berries, carrots, cherry tomatoes

Dried fruit and nuts – apricots, apple pieces, dates, raisins, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts

Other parents should be concerned as well and you have every right to be discussing this with them. I understand that sometimes it’s just easy to go with the flow, that everyone is busy and providing healthy snacks at games is another thing to add to the list, but you might find they are just as concerned as you are, and some simple solutions could be found by just bringing this up with them.