Sports and Snacks

It's a familiar scene on youth sports fields across this country. The whistle blows, kids shake hands...and then they run like Karl Lewis to find the mom handing out the post game snack. Of course they do. This is America and we love food. Well, it is not really food we love. We love the chemically enhanced, momentarily tasty products masquerading as food and living in the middle isles of our grocery stores. And these impostors find their way into every aspect of our American life.

A birthday at the office - well of course there must be cake. An early meeting demands donuts. A holiday party at school and we are certain our children will suffer greatly unless they have the appropriately themed cookies. My kids' school offers either pizza or a local fast food option at least once a week. I have a
pre-schooler learning to count with candy - which of course they are allowed to eat at the end of the lesson. And of all of this unhealthiness, the one that is sending the most confusing message to our children is the marriage of youth sports and food.

It is impossible to turn on a news program today without finding some type of story on the rise of obesity in our children. Type II diabetes is now something faced regularly by this nation's kids - juvenile cardiovascular disease is on the rise. The current generation of kids will likely have a shorter lifespan than their parents. This is bordering on child abuse and it must stop. I'm not sure why American parents can't see it - the paradox between teaching kids that sports and treats go together. We take our precious children, most of whom have been sitting in school all day, or in front of the television or playing video games and we send them out for an hour of moving their body, competing, having fun doing something physical...and then we reward that with 400 calories of high fructose corn syrup, food dye and trans fats. Seriously? Do we truly believe that 45 minutes of soccer has left our kids so dangerously close to low blood sugar and dehydration that they they need a bag of mini-cookies and a gallon of sports drink? Is this really good parenting?

It has to stop. I don't know how, but this madness must end. It seems overwhelming because this snack insanity is everywhere. So, as parents, what should we do? Change is on the horizon, but it is going to take time...baby steps. It is a movement that must start slowly, individually and then hopefully, as people become better educated, it will swell from the ground upward and change will come. If you are a coach and it is an option to skip snacks entirely for your team...do it. If this is
deemed sacrilegious in your particular athletic organization, then encourage healthy snacks. And a word of advice, most parents don't know what healthy snacks are...so provide some ideas. The list of foods to avoid is long: no sodas, sports drinks, or artificially flavored waters, nothing with sugar as the first ingredient, nothing with high fructose corn syrup, trans fats or food dyes, nothing with an ingredient list over three items or with any ingredient that sounds like it was made by a scientist (because if it was, it isn't food). The "healthy" list is very easy: whole foods, foods that God made, fresh and no preservatives - and to drink...water (gasp!).

This is a scary era of obesity and it is time for some changes. Of course food is an important part of life. Real food is meant to be enjoyed...savored...delighted in. But this artificial, processed,
snacky, on-the-go, frankenfood is not edible and it certainly isn't something we need to be giving our growing kids...especially not in association with athletics. They need to learn that food is fuel, and if you want to perform, it is imperative to feed the body in a way that will give it the energy it needs. It is time to substitute the fake-fruit gummies and electric blue liquid for some of the healthy nutrition lessons that can be learned through sport. The last whistle has blown. We must stop rewarding kids with this insidious fake food, and start filling them with the tools needed to make healthy choices. Their little lives depend on it.

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