My son had a flag football game on Saturday morning. I snuggled in a blanket on the sidelines with my daughter and we played with colouring books and hand clapping games while we watched him run around. He’s only eight, and his teammates are in the six to eight-year-old range, so it’s a bit of organized chaos unfolding amidst a sea of mouthguards and football cleats. Flags flying, kids running, and footballs dropping everywhere. It’s childhood fun at its best.
The game was scheduled from 11:30am-12:30pm, so we packed snacks to eat at the field to tide us over for a later lunch at home. Both of my kids are snackers, as am I- in fact, our sporting event snack bag looks more like a full grocery bag than a few snacks thrown into the bottom of a purse. I’ve always been that way; I’m the mom with a full cooler at BlueJays games and a packed lunch for an afternoon at the park. Nutrition is important to me, and I find that I have far less control when purchasing food than I do when I pack my own. Food brought from home allows me to better manage the preservatives, the additives, the sodium, and the fat content of typical take-out on-the-run options.
When the game finished, we began to pack up our gear. My children are still young enough that we usually pack like we’re going away overnight when in fact we’re only gone for the afternoon. I gathered our blanket, our games, our snacks, our extra layers, and we began to leave. My husband, who is the assistant coach for my son’s team, mentioned that team snacks were being handed out further down the field. The post-game snack is a big part of the fun in young children’s sports, so my son hurried down to claim his share. He came back with two things:
I cringed on the outside and raged on the inside.
Now, I don’t consider myself to be unreasonably strict with my nutritional standards. Yes, I believe in high-quality food, and yes, I try to minimize my family’s intake of processed junk, but I’m not on the all-organic, all-homemade, no-sugar, no-yellow #5 train either. I like to live in the world of moderation, with a heavy emphasis on fruits and vegetables. All that being said, “normal” is based on one’s perception, and my household normal does not include multi-coloured goldfish crackers and KoolAid jammers.
As is always the case in parenting, I weighed my options. I let my son have some of the above, and my daughter had a taste too. We threw the rest out and we had a good, long conversation on the way home about properly fueling our bodies so that they can be at their healthiest and help us to perform and feel at our best. As a lifelong athlete, I have learned first-hand the effects that nutrition can have on athletic performance, and that’s why I find it particularly troubling that these snacks are being given in a situation in which we are promoting fitness and sport. The irony is not lost on me. The same could be said for school cafeteria and vending machine choices- if we expect our children to perform at their best, physically and mentally, why are we choosing these types of snacks?
A pre-cut veggie tray and a block of cheese would be no less convenient. A bag of apples and a box of fig bars would be no less costly. A watermelon and some granola packets would be no less tasty. We can change the food industry with the choices we make with our dollars, and we can change our children’s well-being with the choices we make with their food.
Please, let’s choose wisely. After all, we’re creating their “normal.”