Various snack foods featuring Sun-Maid raisins

Play Hard, Have Fun and

Snack Right!

Suzanne Nelson, ScD, RDN
Sports Nutritionist, Speaker & Author

I used to live across the street from a middle school athletic field. On Saturdays in the fall, youth soccer games took center stage. I would watch as parents paraded across the field with coolers, shopping bags, chairs, blankets and umbrellas in hand. Tailgating was in full swing.

Key Take-Away

If you want to help your kids stay energized and hydrated, providing high-octane fuel is as necessary as having the right gear.

From my vantage point it appeared that most of what was being provided to feed the young athletes was often less than optimal. Aha moment. I needed to provide some education that fueling kids up on crème donuts, chips and soda was not a high performance strategy. My message to the parents would be simple. If they wanted to help their children stay energized and hydrated, providing “high octane” fuel was as necessary as having the right gear. I would hold up a few examples—boxes of raisins, bagels and watermelon slices. So across the street I went—armed with healthy food, beverages and my Parents Snack Guide for Active Kids handout.

Parents Snack Guide for Active Kids

The Importance of Snacks*

  • Provide energy for sports activity
  • Supply fluids to keep the body cool and hydrated
  • Provide nutrients for growth and development
  • Promote recovery after exercise


Before Weekend Morning Games

It’s important for kids to “break the fast” and eat breakfast—especially before arriving at the playing field for a game. Along with water or low-fat milk, offer foods that are quick, easy and nutritious. Consider prepping the night before to save time.

  • Peanut butter and banana on tortilla
  • A mini cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese
  • English muffin sandwich with sliced hard-boiled egg, with a slice of lean ham and/or cheese
  • Greek yogurt topped with homemade granola, chopped nuts, fresh berries or dried fruit
  • Oatmeal topped with raisins and almonds


After Weekend Games

Right after a game, a snack can help to start the recovery process of replacing muscle fuel (carbohydrates) used during activity, along with some protein to repair muscle. Fluid intake should be encouraged to replace sweat losses. Consider packing your cooler with these kid-friendly nutritious options:

  • Yogurt in a tube, frozen for hot days
  • Peanut butter or almond butter sandwiches with fruit
  • Turkey and/or cheese wraps cut into 1-inch slices for easy finger food
  • Individually wrapped cheese slices, sticks or wedges
  • Cold water, 100% juice packs, low-fat chocolate milk and sports drinks
  • Unsweetened applesauce in pouches
  • Individual bags of crackers, pretzels, rice cakes and baked tortilla chips
  • Granola bars
  • Snack boxes of Sun-Maid Raisins
  • Popcorn
  • Organic versions of cheesy bunnies
  • Kind bars and Lara bars
  • Beef or turkey jerky made with quality ingredients
  • Trail mix with nuts and raisins
  • Cereal (Cheerios or Chex)
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Graham or animal crackers
  • Fresh fruit (apple, orange, banana, grapes and berries)
  • Veggies (grape tomatoes, celery sticks and baby carrots)


After-Exercise Meals

If games (or practices) end around lunch or dinner time, you may opt to pack a meal. Along with low-fat chocolate milk, regular milk or water, here are some ideas:

  • Sandwich (turkey, roast beef) on whole-grain, grape tomatoes and oatmeal raisin cookie (see Sun-Maid’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookie)
  • Chicken and grape tortilla sandwiches, baby carrots and low-fat ranch dressing for dipping
  • Chicken, cheese, guacamole, rice and black bean burrito, with fruit salad on the side
  • Tropical pasta salad, celery sticks with nut butter and raisins
  • Assorted finger sandwiches on whole-grain bread or mini bagels or Hawaiian sweet rolls (examples: turkey, roast beef, chicken, cheese, veggie, hummus) and watermelon wedges

I found that the parents were grateful for the information. Coaches understood the value of having well-fueled kids on the field. They would have more energy and focus. And the kids seemed to have fun finding foods that they liked on the list of healthy options.

Although every school and league is different, lots of parents and coaches (not to mention health care professionals) are concerned about kids being bombarded with unhealthy food choices at sporting events. I encourage you to print out a copy of these guidelines to start a discussion. My cousin recently took a copy to his son’s little league coach. He was tired of the nachos, hot dogs and soda that they were providing to the kids. And guess what? Parents and coaches worked together to make positive changes. When it comes to providing snacks for kids playing sports everyone involved can find a happy—and healthier balance!

Do you have any experiences to share about fueling kids for youth sports?

* Note: If you are asked to bring snacks for a team, make sure to check with parents about kids who may have food allergies. I’ve listed a variety of options that can be mixed and matched to accommodate dairy, gluten or nut allergies, but read labels carefully, and consult with a registered dietitian (RDN) or physician if you have questions.


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