When kids run off the field after a soccer game or jump out of the pool at a swim meet, they are usually greeted with a post-game snack, sometimes a sports drink like Gatorade and an energy bar.
But according to a new healthy snack list released by the Mecklenburg County Medical Society Child Health group, those foods are often high in sugar and not healthy for kids after exercise. The list offers some snack options the group says are better options after exercise to refuel and avoid empty calories.
“Every child after the game is looking for something to eat,” said Anne Walker, a pediatrician at Novant Health and a member of the children’s health group. “Many times, by the time you get to the parking lot, you eat more calories than you’ve burned in the game.”
According to the snack list, parents can choose healthy alternatives like fresh fruit, vegetables and string cheese.
Sports drinks with electrolytes aren’t necessary for children’s exercise and contain empty calories, Walker said, and sugar-free drinks are still controversial for their nutritional impact, so water is always the best choice.
The Mecklenburg County Medical Society is a nonprofit group with more than 1,300 physician members that aims to educate and provide access to community health resources, like the snack list.
The group created the list to inform parents of the sugar content of some usual snacks and to offer alternatives. Diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease are related to unhealthy diets, Walker said, and parents should pay attention to how much sugar their kids are eating.
“Parents in general, especially with younger kids, are getting onto (healthier snacking),” said Dean Brodhag, a retired AARP volunteer who has worked with the children’s health group. “This list may be just a push to confirm that and affirm the good behavior.”
Giving children healthier food at games can teach them to make better diet options later on in life, Brodhag said, and the team setting lets kids learn from each other.
“What I found is there’s another facet of healthy snacks,” Walker said, “which is that the peer pressure of eating what a teammate is eating can introduce you to a new snack.”
A mother of three teenagers, Walker brought snacks to a swim meet that fit the description on the list: bok choy, a type of Chinese cabbage, as well as cherry tomatoes, blueberries and watermelon cut like a lotus flower.
“Everybody raved. It takes little butterfly wings to start a hurricane,” she said. “It was a lot of fun to think through and talk about.”
About a dozen medical professionals crafted the list, Brodhag said. “Folks are picking it up, just being aware that eating right and eating less is a good thing,” Brodhag said. “I think it’s just one more step. I think it’s a piece of the puzzle.”
The children’s health group is spreading the list to local athletic groups and associations to encourage parents and teams to bring healthier snacks. Organizations can even add a pledge for healthy snacks to their bylaws, Brodhag said.