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Power up your kids with nutritious snacks

Healthy snacks seem to make young soccer players feel and play better.

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Healthy snacks seem to make young soccer players feel and play better.

There was a time, a few years back, when the Arsenal soccer team would chow down on doughnuts at a morning game.

Not anymore.

The boys, now a sixth-grade recreational YMCA team in Dallas, snack on orange slices, clementines and bananas, cheese sticks, and whole-grain or rice crackers, along with drinking lots of water.

The kids seem to feel better and play better because of it, says Laura Forson of Dallas, whose husband, Jim, coaches the team on which their 11-year-old plays.

"We decided as a group of parents that we want to reinforce what our kids are hearing at school, that if we're good to our bodies that our bodies will be good to us. We're trying to stress the importance of a healthy body for longevity."

Increasingly, parents are taking a healthier approach to the treats they bring to their children's sports games, says Meridan Zerner, a dietitian at Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas.

"I am seeing parents helping their children make better choices more often," she says. "I think parents want to give their children every advantage, and one of those is health. Besides, if you want your kids to play stronger, faster and smarter you can't fuel that with candy and treats."

The trend is not universal, though, so Zerner, a mother of two, tries to have something healthful on hand in her car for those times when she doesn't like what's being offered.

"When parents bring these little Gummi bears or chips, I pull my son aside and say, 'You can have some of this,' because I don't want him to feel excluded, but I also give him something healthy because I know that's what his body needs."

Forson says their team's move to healthier snacks started when the boys were being scheduled for back-to-back games. That's when the parents noticed that sugary treats after the first game gave boys a burst of energy that petered out quickly in the second match.

"It was a common-sense solution to the problem," she says. "And the boys were welcoming of it. I asked my son if he minded having healthier snacks and he said no. He feels he's got a lot of endurance because of them and his energy level is higher."

The Arsenal parents are trying to slip in a lesson about the environment, as well, by urging the children to bring water bottles that they refill out of a big jug of water the parents bring to each game, Forson says.

"We don't want to have plastic bottles strewn all over the field. We're trying to send a message that we need to treat the Earth well just as we treat our bodies well."

WHAT TO SERVE

Dietitian Meridan Zerner offers these recommendations for young athletes:

Pregame: easy-to-digest carbohydrates, such as graham crackers and milk, whole-grain crackers with a little cream cheese, a small bagel with a little peanut butter, pasta, brown rice, a healthful cereal bar such as Kashi, a Clif Z Bar or Kellogg's All-Bran Fiber bar

Halftime: handful of Cheerios or the mini Honey Nut Cheerios bags, whole-grain graham crackers

Postgame: trail mix, watermelon, low-fat cheese, whole-grain Goldfish, yogurt sticks, minibagels with peanut butter, oranges and bananas, 100 percent fruit bars, yogurt fruit bars. For kids who want something more exciting than water, she suggests Honest Kids, a flavored water with no high-fructose corn syrup that comes in a pouch with a straw.

Tips on buying snacks: Look for the words "real fruit" and "whole grain," and less than 3 grams of saturated fat; avoid high-fructose corn syrup or any sugar if it's in the first five ingredients. Zerner says she always brings two snacks to increase the chance that each child will find something he likes.

Power up your kids with nutritious snacks 11/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 5:31am]

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