With school starting for many children at the end of August and beginning of September, fall sports practice and games begin with a vengeance. In addition to coordinating carpools for practice and buying equipment and sporting gear, you also many find yourself needing to sign up to bring snacks for the team. No need to get stressed about figuring out what to bring. Having a game plan to provide nourishing, tasty choices for hungry children will help you be prepared.

Providing snacks that fuel young athletes is your chance to teach kids the proper way to get energy for sports. Instead of reaching for sugar and sodium-laden fruit snacks, candy, or sports drinks, or hitting the drive thru at your favorite fast food restaurant, stop to consider the goals of snacking.

Snacks serve several purposes for active children such as:

  • Providing energy (calories) to help working muscles power through activity
  • Supplying fluids for hydration and to keep the body cool
  • Providing nutrients for growth and development
  • Promoting recovery after hard exercise

In addition, snacks should be easily digested so blood flows to the muscles during exercise and not to the stomach in order to digest a heavy, greasy snack like chicken fingers and fries.

Depending on the time of the game, different snacks meet different needs. Here is a guide to choosing snacks based on game day and time.

After school practice

Many kids have early lunch periods during school, so they might start practice hungry. A good after school snack provides quality carbohydrates and protein for quick energy and a satisfied tummy. Consider packing your cooler with these nourishing options:

  • 6-ounce cartons of a variety of fruited yogurt or yogurt in a tube
  • Peanut butter or almond butter sandwiches on whole grain bread with natural fruit jam (use sports-themed cookie cutters for fun shapes if desired)
  • Turkey and/or cheese wraps cut into 1-inch slices for easy finger foods
  • Low-fat string cheese and mini pretzels
  • Applesauce and string cheese
  • Bottles of cold water or pitchers of cold water with lemon (cold water helps lower body temperature in active athletes)

Weekend morning games

Muscle fuel can be very low after an overnight fast. So if you are rushing out the door to make it to a morning game, consider serving breakfast foods that kids love:

  • A mini cinnamon-raisin bagel with light cream cheese or nut butter
  • Toasted English muffin sandwich with a slice of lean ham and/or reduced-fat cheese
  • Vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt with a variety of toppings (homemade granola, chopped almonds or walnuts, fresh or dried fruit)
  • Yogurt smoothies in a variety of flavors
  • Cartons of low-fat milk with baggies full of cereal
  • 100-percent fruit juice boxes

After the game

After the game, snacks should help replace muscle fuel lost in exercise and replenish fluids without ruining their appetite for the next meal. Pack any of the following so teammates can just grab-and-go:

  • Popcorn sprinkled with Parmesan cheese
  • Low-fat chocolate milk cartons
  • Banana, orange slices and/or apple slices (dipped in orange juice to prevent browning)
  • Washed grapes
  • Fig, blueberry or strawberry bars
  • Yogurt cartons or tubes
  • Homemade trail mix (pretzels, dried raisins or cranberries, unsweetened cereal, nuts (allergy permitting), popcorn
  • String cheese

To save money, buy trail mix ingredients in bulk. Have your child mix them in a large mixing bowl. He or she can portion out individual servings into plastic snack bags.

Providing snacks becomes a part of every parent's job, so choose wisely and help your child succeed on the field, in the classroom and life. Streamline your snacks to make it easier for you to buy and serve. Pack nutritious choices to teach your child and teammates how to snack healthfully.

Sadhana Bienzen is a dietitian who lives in Franklin with her husband and four children.    

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