As a bona-fide suburban soccer dad, I spend most Saturdays driving around my 2 oldest girls to their games. They are super fun to watch, but the fact is: I know absolutely nothing about soccer, and that is the case with most dads out there. The best I can do is show them how to chest-bump their teammates after scoring a goal, which is kind of fun (though my wife frowns upon this…but I think she does this for reasons related to maintaining a sense of propriety–secretly, I think she likes the chest bump too!)
Though I know nothing about soccer, I do know a few things about nutrition, and the one thing that I have learned in this regard is that parents, although they love their kids, know less about nutrition than soccer. If that seems like kind of a sad statement, it’s because it is. The reasons for this ignorance for this are complex, and equally as frustrating, trying to help promote a change is hard and frustrating.
For instance, most parents bring a sports drink after a game for kids to drink, and I am sure they think that is healthy because it has electrolytes and it helps them hydrate. But the reality is that those drinks are simply loaded with sugar. The fact is: you are simply giving your kids a soda that has some vitamins and is not carbonated.
But most people don’t see it this way. The marketing campaigns for these drinks is slick and focuses on how these drinks help you compete, and keep your body from failing under extreme physical stress. There is no doubt that hydration is helpful and necessary, but the fact is neither we, or our kids, are professional triatheletes. But it seems the marketers have won for now, because these drinks are at the end of every game.1.
My wife and I have been really trying to change the snacking culture of the various activities we have our girls go to, like soccer, Girl Scouts, etc. It’s not an easy thing to do because (a) parents think that foods which are actually toxic for children are benign (b) they are fooled by the “conventional wisdom” that foods that are toxic for children are actually healthy (c) a lot of those foods are easy to prepare and distribute and (d) as parent trying to inform other parents, you end up sounding overbearing–even if that isn’t your intention.
Another example. I sometimes see energy bars at the games, which often have more carbohydrates than a candy bar! Some energy bars contain 50 grams of carbohydrates, while a average candy bar often contains about 20-25. Plus, they are loaded with soy protein, molasses, and other stuff that is just not good for you.
But here is the great irony: a lot of parents know this, already! They don’t want to feed their kid a candy bar after a game, so they give them…chips and pretzels. Here is the problem that I see with that. First of all, chips and pretzels often have an equivalent or worse glycemic index than table sugar, so giving your kids these items after a game is not like giving your kids sugar after a a game--it is worse.
But the irony doesn’t end because if you compare an average bad candy bar with a bad of healthy pretzels, you will find that candy bars have things like nuts, coconut, peanut butter, and dark chocolate in their ingredients–all healthy things–whereas a bag of pretzel is salty wheat. That’s it. Most people don’t think of it this way, but that’s really kind of how it is.
Am I implying that a candy bar is healthy to give your kids after a game? Well, if you give me a choice between a candy bar and a pretzel, I’ll just say this: you can find me snickering on pay-day over on that mound2…I know, I know that was terrible. But even if approached people with this level of openness and humor, people are still skeptical and recalcitrant to examining their current beliefs, and you often end up seem like an weirdo…
So, in a sense you just can’t win. Both my wife and I are doctors, and our oldest 2 children have juvenile diabetes, and we know on many levels, what foods work. Just because our kids have diabetes doesn’t mean food acts differently on them. That is a total misconception. They respond differently because they have no insulin, but how the food acts on their body is essentially the same as you and me.
Here is a challenge for those without diabetes. Take your blood sugar, have a can of pop, measure your blood sugar in 15 minutes, then 30 minutes. I did this and my blood sugar went to 140. That’s a diabetic level. But people still bring foods which are bad for children and adults for after game snacking.
I have no illusion about changing the world in this regard. There are a lot of parents who think that its great to get a kid sugared up on a special occasion with cake, ice cream, and pop. So what can I do about it? In most cases, the fact is nothing. But if I did that to my girls, they could get very sick as a result. So, I understand I have a totally different perspective than most, all I can really do is inform them if they want to be informed. And that’s a big if.
And in the end, the reality is this is a free country, and you can do what you want and try to make the choices that you feel are best for you and your children. I only wish to share with you my thoughts and experiences, and if they can help you make a more informed choice and perhaps inspire some dialogue, that’s great.
1. I think better alternatives are water, iced herbal tea, and the no-sugar alternatives to the sports drink. The problem is that there aren’t that many of the no-sugar sports drinks available, and a lot of moms are just too busy to freshly brew herbal tea for their kids. My kids love peppermint and cinnamon herbal teas, and they like water with lemon and lime squeezed in it as well. And yes, they do like no-calorie drinks as well. Some are very good tasting, I admit, and I like them very much myself.
2. Why not apples, oranges, and bananas for post game snacks? Why not cheese sticks? My wife and I did that for a game (brought apple halves and cheese sticks), and the look of amazement in parents’ faces was great to see. It was almost like they forgot that these items count as food! What was even better to see is that all of the food was finished, with no leftovers, and kids and their siblings asked for more. We all live under this assumption that kids like junk food more than real food, and the fact is that they do like junk food, but they also like real food as well, like apples, oranges, and bananas and cheese sticks. I think one of the great things and blessing of being a parent is shopping for food and cooking with your kids. We can expose them to great foods and great flavors and great habits for a healthy life doing this. But to do this effectively, we must also educate ourselves and not be tricked by things like sports drinks, and “healthy” snacks…