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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Good to Know

Susan Boyd

Soccer is great for our kids, but not so great for our pocketbooks. We all wish our players improve and continue to grow into stronger, passionate players, but every step forward adds to the expense of the venture. We move from recreational soccer, where a nominal fee includes a kit as well as coaching, to select teams with travel, top-of-the-line uniforms and gear, and elite summer academies. Costs escalate without any respite in sight. However, there is some relief with discounts out there specifically for the soccer player, the player’s family, and coaches that can help offset some of the monetary burden along with national membership programs that provide wide-ranging cost reductions.

US Youth Soccer, through its sponsors, provides several helpful discounts. Liberty Mutual offers some significant discounts to coaches, teachers and players, along with some special insurance riders, including paying no deductible if you are in a collision while on soccer/school business and protecting your valuables in your car up to $2,500 while parked on soccer/school property. Sports Authority makes special discounts available to US Youth Soccer members. Check the US Youth Soccer website and look for coupons in player packets at tournaments. Likewise, Kohl’s has special discounts for player members as well as distributing coupons at tournaments and through US Youth Soccer events. Although a direct relationship between US Youth Soccer and hotel chains isn’t presently in force, it doesn’t hurt to ask when traveling to tournaments if your hotel will give you a discount as a soccer family attending a soccer event. Often, hotels will provide a 10-to-15 percent discount in the hopes that you’ll rebook with them the next time you attend a tournament in a city where they have rooms. You have even more leverage if you are booking for the entire team. Don’t be shy about using the power of multiple reservations to insure the lowest rate. Also, if you are in a hotel which doesn’t offer breakfast in the price but has an onsite restaurant serving breakfast for a fee, negotiate a voucher for every person equivalent to cover at minimum juice and a bagel.

If you are a member of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) you are entitled to some great benefits. In association with Nationwide insurance, NSCAA offers members very competitive auto insurance rates. Additionally, all members are covered by a $1 million general liability policy and also can take part in group health insurance options for major medical and limited medical, dental, and vision plans. Even more interesting, the NSCAA offers Veterinary Pet Insurance backed by Nationwide for a 5 percent discount. Chronic care for pets is covered with unlimited claims allowed. KwikGoal is an NSCAA partner and gives members a 15 percent discount on purchases. Members can also avail themselves of, a one-stop booking site specifically geared towards soccer coaches and families with emphasis on soccer tournaments, conferences, camps, and conventions throughout the United States. The site can find great airfares, hotels and rental cars for the soccer participant. The service is both convenient and cost-conscience while understanding the particular needs of soccer teams such as late or early check-outs affected by a team’s results during tournaments. NSCAA memberships include the Soccer Journal, published seven times a year with great articles on improving coaching techniques and available tournaments. Memberships cost $95 per year and are open to all coaches (even parent coaches), club administrators, and other roles in the club such as team managers.

Although not soccer specific, obtaining an AAA membership can bring you some instant benefits for a very limited yearly fee. Classic memberships are $56 a year with additional memberships available for family members at $30 each, but the good news is that AAA will waive the first year’s fee. The benefits are well-suited for traveling soccer families. There’s the standard roadside assistance which we’ve used several times for break downs traveling to a tournament or dead batteries after the kids run the radio in the car during a three-hour rain delay, not to mention lock out service when you forget you set those keys down in the trunk while pulling out the chairs and slam the lid down just as you remember. There’s also five miles of free towing, which more than covers the yearly fee. But it’s the non-auto benefits that make the card a great deal. For your travel, you can get up to 20 percent off room rates at several major hotel chains, Hertz Rental Gold Program membership, which includes an additional driver for free, 10 percent off Amtrak fares, and discount tickets to Universal Studios Hollywood and Sea World. Denny’s offers a 10 percent discount on meals and Papa John’s gives 30 percent for online orders with a special code you can get through your AAA online account. Off the road, AAA gives you 10-to-30 percent off various Dell computer configurations. Lenscrafters provides 10-to-30 percent off eye exams and on eyeware and contacts, and even if you find a lower deal which includes the discounts they will give you an additional $5 off. Payless Shoes allots a 10 percent discount to AAA members. There are various discounts with DirecTV, Dunham’s Sports, Reebok,, and 1-800-Flowers. There are AAA prescription discounts and if you use AAA approved auto repair shops you can get 10 percent off labor up to $50. If a discount isn’t mentioned here, be sure to ask if the business or hotel offers AAA discount because there are several local discounts not listed on the national site.

You don’t have to be the grandparent of a soccer player to qualify for an AARP membership. They are available for $16 a year for anyone age 50 or older. The benefits are far too numerous to mention here, but needless to say they are great for soccer families. You can get free cups of coffee from Burger King and Denny’s or get a free donut from Dunkin’ with the purchase of a drink. Besides similar hotel discounts as AAA, AARP has a long list of restaurants that award you with 10-to-15 percent meal discounts, the savings with Lenscrafter’s are double those of AAA, Ticketmaster can give you substantial discounts on four-pack tickets (Stars on Ice are 25 percent off right now), when you swipe your membership card at checkout at the grocery you receive instant discounts without the hassles of coupons, and Walgreen’s offers the same service as long as you have a Balance Rewards card to which you link your AARP card helping you earn far more bonus points translating into spendable dollars. AARP is associated with Budget, Avis, Payless, and Zip Car rentals offering various discounts or free days to members. At Days Inn and Super 8 you can get a 20 percent rate discount and La Quinta gives 10 percent off plus a free breakfast. There’s up to a $400 discount on British Airways and 10 percent off Park Ride Fly USA parking reservations. Again, asking at the businesses (including online businesses) and hotels if they give an AARP discount can give you savings you didn’t expect. For example, Amazon Kindle gives 50 percent off select Kindle book downloads. Cell phone services such as Cricket, AT&T, and Consumer Cellular have savings off their wireless contracts.

Use the power of your team to get discounts on the road when ordering team meals, buying groceries, or taking them to a movie. Ask to speak to the manager and request a 10-to-20 percent discount. Make it clear that you are one of dozens, even scores of teams, at a tournament, and you’d be more than happy to let them know how helpful their business was to your team. Over several years of negotiating these deals I’ve found large chains like Publix and Kroger’s to be quite helpful in giving teams a discount. Olive Garden has given me a discount for the team when ordering their catering service for team dinners both on the road and before our local team matches. You can’t get a break if you don’t ask. It’s rare a manager will be offended by your request, and usually he or she can be very helpful in finding you even more ways to save at their store (I have dozens of “retired” grocery membership cards that saved us plenty over the years). When booking hotel rooms try to get the entire team, even the entire club, to book along with you – it requires early planning but can pay big dividends. Also ask the hotel to comp the coach’s room. Whenever the US Youth Soccer ODP Wisconsin team traveled, we made sure we got two rooms comped – one for the bus driver and one for the coaches. Hotels usually agreed when we booked 10 or more rooms.

Soccer can be expensive, and even with discounts it isn’t going to be kind to the bank account. However, seeking out discounts not just for travel but also for peripheral soccer needs can help you save enough to make a dent. Contact tournament directors to see if they are aware of any breaks for teams in their area that are being offered by local vendors. Go online to find coupons for national and local establishments which may exceed discounts you can get with AAA or AARP. Check out Groupon which can get you restaurant coupons for a price that often will take 50 percent of a dining bill. There are savings out there which we shouldn’t let get away from us. Take advantage of everything you can find and everything you can create. It’s good to know you can.

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What's the Best Route

Susan Boyd

In 2007 United States Soccer Federation (USSF) began its Boys Development Academy (DA) with an eye towards improving the pool of players for the U.S. Men’s National Team (MNT). Clubs could join the DA but had to agree to several non-negotiable terms. At first the restrictions focused on competing development programs such as the United States Youth Soccer Association’s Olympic Development Program (ODP), Super Y League, etc. Within two years the USSF decided to also constrain players from participating in high school soccer. Over the past eight years the DA has come under fire for not significantly improving the men’s national soccer pool and for removing a “rite of passage” for players who couldn’t also experience the rush of competing for their hometown high school and whose soccer careers wouldn’t be continuing in college or with the MNT. The DA is also dependent on already existing clubs for membership, most of whom are in large metropolitan areas. Therefore players with skills who lived in rural areas without powerhouse teams were neglected under this system.  This has always been an area of advantage of US Youth Soccer ODP; it created its own state-wide team from all areas of the organization’s 55 member State Associations. Training with ODP allowed all players the opportunity of identification for state, regional and national teams that was not available to them through DA and the ability to continue to play in high school.

Now the USSF has announced that in the fall 2017 it will launch its Girls Development Academy using the model it has for the Boy’s DA with few age groups. This has given rise to some serious debate within the soccer community. Presently the United States Women’s National Team (WNT) is ranked number one in the world and has strong showing at the youth international levels. Presently members are identified through US Youth Soccer ODP, US Youth Soccer National Championships Series and US Youth Soccer National League events in addition to programs from other organizations. Critics of the USSF plan cite the limited impact the Boy’s DA has had in improving the level of men’s soccer and the heavy restrictions placed on the member clubs’ players. US Youth Soccer does not limit a player’s opportunity to play in high school or other leagues. Many players want to participate in the community spirit that surrounds being on the high school team, especially since most American players will not play beyond that stage.  No one wants to characterize the Girl’s DA as precipitating a turf war with existing programs despite looming restrictions against these programs.

However, despite the creation of the Boy’s DA and other competing organizations on the girl’s side, many adult and youth players who have found success on the national and international stage grew up playing US Youth Soccer. Of the 23 players named to the 2014 FIFA World Cup U.S. National Team, all 16 players who played youth soccer in the United States have a heavy US Youth Soccer experience. Omar Gonzalez won two US Youth Soccer National Championships, Michael Bradley competed in the 2002 National Championships and Deandre Yedlin, Alejandro Bedoya and Matt Besler competed in US Youth Soccer Regional Championships.

More recently, the top-three picks of the 2016 MLS Superdraft have US Youth Soccer ties as opposed to playing in the Boy’s DA. The first overall pick, Jack Harrison, won three US Youth Soccer Region I Championships and the 2014 US Youth Soccer National Championships with Manhattan SC PSG 96 (NY-E). Harrison also won the Golden Ball at the 2014 National Championships, given to the most valuable field player. Joshua Yaro, the second pick in the draft, played club soccer for Santa Barbara SC (CA-S) and represented Cal South at the 2011 US Youth Soccer ODP Championships. Yaro’s former college teammate and fellow Philadelphia Union draftee, Keegan Rosenberry, is a US Youth Soccer National League alum, and reached the finals of the 2011 National Championships with Penn Fusion (PA-E). Even Jordan Morris, who signed a record Homegrown Contract with Seattle Sounders, spent a majority of his youth career playing in US Youth Soccer events and programs. Morris’ Eastside FC (WA) first competed at the US Youth Soccer Region IV Championships in the Under-13 age group in 2008. Morris would go one to compete in five Region IV Championships that included earning a 2011 title. Eastside also claimed a 2011-12 National League title and twice finished third at the National Championships. Morris was awarded the Golden Ball at the National Championships in 2012.

On the girl’s side. All 23 players on the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Championship roster have US Youth Soccer ties, including nine players who have competed at the National Championships. Ali Krieger, Megan Rapinoe and Morgan Brian reached the finals, while Tobin Heath, Amy Rodriguez and Christen Press all claimed national titles. The World Cup Golden Ball and Golden Glove winners, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo, both have multiple years of experience playing US Youth Soccer ODP, and Solo first transitioned from forward to keeper while playing ODP.

All 20 players on the U.S. squad that qualified to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil played US Youth Soccer ODP. Emily Sonnett, who was one of those 20 players, was the number one pick at the 2016 NWSL College Draft. Sonnett won a National League title, two Region III Championships and a National Championships with NASA (GA). Sonnett also was awarded the Golden Ball at the 2013 National Championships.            

In this drive to improve a program which many would argue isn’t broken, the emphasis could be on who controls that exclusive syndicate. As soccer grows in popularity in the United States so too grows its economic power. The USSF as the FIFA sanctioned governing power in the United States has tremendous impact on how soccer clubs are regarded. When a club is deemed more elite than others in its area, that club and its coaches gain significant monetary leverage. They can charge more for fees, coaches can earn more and sponsorships are more likely to flow in their direction. Therefore, two factors come into play with this new Girl’s DA:  improving the level of women’s soccer in America and maintaining or increasing financial benefits to the clubs involved. In a perfect world the latter wouldn’t even be a consideration, but clubs are dependent upon fees paid by members to keep their teams viable. Some might argue that money would be an incentive in strengthening a club’s development programs – the proverbial carrot.

Unfortunately all too often money doesn’t translate into stronger development but into stronger recruitment. Winning teams get prestige which rolls over to increased demand and higher fees. Development takes time, but finding strong players and bringing them to a club is faster and arguably more lucrative. Most clubs and umbrella organizations would take umbrage with the suggestion since everyone is touting development. Nevertheless history shows that we need to question if these development programs actually develop players or just develop winning records. The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive, it’s just that too often they are.

Over the last two decades, based on empirical data, one would say that the women’s program in the United States must be doing a better job of developing players than the men’s program. In the third most populous country of the world with 323 million people and a history of strong athletic achievement, we should be sitting on a gold mine of soccer talent ready for development.

However, we continue to languish proportionally on the world stage on the men’s side.  We have achievements, no question, and we have turned out some impressive soccer talent. The problem is we aren’t doing it consistently and at a level commensurate with our size and abilities.

Why has the women’s side been so much more successful?  One point might be that women’s soccer world-wide doesn’t match the overwhelming involvement of men’s soccer. Therefore the competition is more diluted. However, that argument fades away when looking at the top tier of women’s world soccer where the competition is not only fierce but well-funded. We can’t seem to find the right formula for developing men’s soccer.

This concern isn’t unique to the United States. Other large population countries such as China, Russia, Indonesia and India aren’t considered strong soccer competitors with China approaching the status of the United States, but are ultimately below countries such as England, Germany and the Netherlands. Experts say it is our very size which is hurting development. Compact countries can make their development programs easily available to all players, and their strong “ladder” of professional leagues makes it possible for a player to climb to elite status while earning a living doing so. This of course begs the question of why does Brazil, given its huge size, and our own women’s program competing with the same factors as our men’s program both succeed?

As soccer officials struggle with deciphering the puzzle they offer up possible solutions which can only be proven or disproven in the laboratory of real life. In the meantime, the women’s program seems to be a strong success without a lot of tweaking necessary to have it continue. Will a Girl’s DA improve the program even further?  That will remain to be seen. If weakened, can it be corrected going forward? 

I’ve watched the Boy’s DA with great interest since Robbie’s club joined in the inaugural season. It morphed over the three years he participated culminating in the high school restriction which he was glad he avoided. Luckily his club had high interest with college and MNT scouts so most of his games were well-attended by such. Regrettably several of his high school teammates were on a lesser regarded Boy’s DA team, which rarely saw coaches and scouts on the sidelines despite some strong and capable players. This was a condition which existed before the Boy’s DA despite promises that exposure would increase. I did not see any increased emphasis on development despite the charter we parents received outlining the advantages of being in the Boy’s DA. Our team was a winning team, and the emphasis remained on keeping them winning.

Nevertheless, I also recognize the need to find ways of developing players in the United States. Without the huge national fervor for the sport that infects other countries, we don’t entice players early enough and long enough to develop them the way they can in powerhouse nations. The women, on the other hand, have a strong history of role models coming from our own country. It’s a sport that girls can relate to almost exclusively because there aren’t many others with the exposure that soccer has earned. That may actually be the biggest reason that we can find, develop and retain female soccer players.

Hopefully all soccer powers can collaborate not only on a plan for a Girl’s DA going forward but on improving the Boy’s DA. While ODP isn’t perfect, it did address something the USSF still hasn’t be able to – the players who don’t live close to Boy’s DA teams. It’s true that in a development program “fairness” can’t be the driving factor. This isn’t the place for “participation” awards and equal playing time. There is an elitism when training the best players that can’t be avoided.

On the other hand, when a player joins a Boy’s DA club and forgoes high school soccer and rides the bench, it isn’t fair to him to be the support system for some elite player at his own expense. That was the advantage of US Youth Soccer ODP as they formed their own elite team where all the players were at a level that was possible to be recognized for advancement.PB Pull Quote

I do counsel parents to consider whether they want the prestige of their son being a member of a Boy’s DA team but not playing or playing in another league where they can also have the experience of playing high school.

The Boy’s DA isn’t the only pathway to college soccer and isn’t always the only pathway to the MNT. Especially if your child is not of the caliber to be considered for the MNT, then perhaps Boy’s DA isn’t the right place for him. Soon we may be coming to this same conundrum for girls.

While I applaud the continuing study into how to improve soccer in the United States, I also hope we don’t throw out a system which has been working in place of a system we hope will work.

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Teach Heading

Sam Snow

Recently U. S. Soccer has recommended to its youth members to eliminate the skill of heading the ball in training sessions and matches for children 10-years-old and younger. Children 11 to 13-years old may head the ball in a match, but are limited in how often the skill can be practiced in a training session. US Youth Soccer will follow that recommendation. The recommendation from U. S. Soccer is a part of a larger player safety campaign, called Recognize to Recover ( I urge all coaches to review all of the information available there.

Previously published by the U.S. Soccer Sports Medicine Committee:

 “At present, there are many gaps and inconsistencies within the medical literature regarding the safety of heading in soccer. The impact of purposeful heading is linear which is less severe than rotational impact. …Head injuries during soccer are more likely to be from accidental contacts such as head-ground, head-opponent, or the rare head-goalpost. …. At this point in time, it is premature to conclude that purposeful heading of a modern soccer ball is a dangerous activity.”

Heading 1Fortunately concussions in soccer are not as common as say, sprained ankles or even the more severe broken bone. Yet they do happen – usually from head-to-head contact or head-to-ground contact. Head-to-head contact could occur sometimes due to poor technique by one or both players challenging for the ball in the air.

So most head injuries in soccer are from the head impacting something other than the ball. The human skull is surprisingly tough. Head injuries from the ball occur when the technique is done incorrectly.

Here lies the real problem. Many coaches teach heading incorrectly or not at all. So many players head the ball wrong and this could cause injuries or inaccurate or poorly paced headers.

Early experiences can be painful if a careful progression in building up confidence is not applied. Let’s talk about how to teach this ball skill to young players who are 11-years-old or older. When the skill is done correctly then the chance of injury is reduced. Simply telling a youngster to head the ball or just tossing one at him or her probably does more harm than good. When the skill is executed incorrectly then there is a chance for injury. Coaches want players to perform this skill well as it is a wonderful additional means of shooting at goal and passing to a teammate or into space. It is a skill that can be used when defending or attacking in a match. A coach seeing the skill done as you see in this photo (Fig. 1) is a sign that a lot of teaching is needed. The mistakes here include eyes closed (so the player has no real idea of the flight of the ball), contact will be with the wrong part of the head, arms are down by the side of the body and the player is allowing the ball to hit him. One major rule in heading is do not let the head be a rebounding surface for the ball. The head should hit the ball, not the other way around.

Heading 2Coaches, introduce this skill with simple balancing of the ball on the correct part of the forehead as seen in this photo (Fig. 2). Then progress to juggling the ball on your own. Use underinflated soccer balls, volleyballs, Nerf balls, tennis balls or balloons to get players started on learning the skill.

Next, move to a self-serve practice where the player tosses the ball up for him or herself to head to a partner. In this manner the player controls the timing of the serve as well as the height and speed of the ball. The partner will pick up the ball and do the same action as the two players practice heading the ball back and forth to one another. The progression continues until players are becoming confident enough to head the ball in a match as seen in figure three.

Although, at its best, soccer is played mainly on the ground, the technique of heading is vital. Players who can make exact passes with the head, who can save dangerous situations at their own goal by heading the ball away and who can make use of chances at the opponent’s goal by means of lightning quick headers are indispensable to their team. There is no better feeling in soccer than beating an opponent in the air to plant a header in the net. Once you have done it, there is a hunger to do it again. It is a spectacular way of scoring goals, or come to that of stopping them. Defensively, it is a great thrill in consistently clearing the ball in the air, beating opposing forwards, and establishing control. The young player who fails to add heading to his or her armory of skills will never go far in the game.

For a full article on the technique of heading go here. Plus view this video clip:

Heading 3

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Susan Boyd

Quite a while ago I wrote about healthy snacks for kids, but it’s time to revisit the pantry because new options are showing up all the time. Most snack options fall in the empty calorie category — delicious but not nutritious. You throw in allergies and you find your selections even more limited. Manufacturers have cleverly made so many of these conveniently accessible and enticingly tasty. However, a quick look at the nutrition label shows them to be devoid of anything beneficial and chock full of salt, sugar, preservatives, and colorings. Exercise requires kids to stock up on or replenish those electrolytes and nutrients their body uses up. A bag of chips won’t help. I’ve learned to be nearly obsessive about reading labels due to my own dietary restrictions. The internet is my friend in these instances, letting me peruse labels in the comfort of my family room instead of in the crowded, hectic aisles of the local grocery. I’ve ended up categorizing snacks in three ways: Purely natural, meaning coming directly from the earth; naturally created with limited processing and additives; and manufactured, yet healthy nonetheless.

In the purely natural group, I include all fruits and vegetables with a limit on the amount of sugar even if those sugars are naturally occurring. A navel orange, that staple of after-game team snacks, packs 23 grams of sugar in one orange. Guidelines tell us we should try to limit our sugars to 50 grams per day. However, no more than 25-to-30 grams a day should come from “added sugars,” which as the name implies are sugars that don’t occur naturally in the food we’re eating such as those found in cakes, candy bars, flavored yogurt and cereals. That means one orange is equal to 50 percent of recommended daily allowances. Fruits with lower sugar contents are pineapple, strawberries and cantaloupe, which are all under 15 grams per serving. Even tomatoes are lower in sugar than oranges and apples. Vegetables are actually a better choice for natural snacks as they provide more fiber, less sugar, and several essential vitamins. Even sweet carrots have only around 6 grams of sugar, and celery, cucumbers, and green peppers have less than 4 grams of sugar per serving. Kids will often turn their noses up at vegetables, but adding a dip from the next group of snacks might heighten their interest and still not overdo the sugar. Nuts are excellent sources of fiber, essential oils, and energy, although many kids do have nut allergies. The best options are raw nuts that don’t have salt and oil added. Sunflower seeds are a great snack but messy with all the shells. Nevertheless, even kids with nut allergies can eat these. Supplying some bags of seeds for noshing on the bench is always welcome. Avoid the flavored seeds which pack on salts and sugars. Popcorn makes a great snack so long as we air pop it and don’t overdo the salt. You can make popcorn in the microwave with a covered heat-resistant glass container which can then be the serving bowl.

Foods that are naturally created can be both convenient and tasty. You can start with something as simple as unsweetened applesauce. These usefully come in snack size containers but be sure the list of ingredients reads simply apples and vitamin C (to keep sauce from browning). There are usually only 11 grams of sugar in each serving. Unsweetened peanut butter is generally ground with salt and perhaps a small amount of additional oil. Jif actually sells a natural peanut butter, which does contain a small amount of sugar along with nuts, and palm oil. You get 7 grams of protein per a two tablespoon serving, which is excellent. You can even grind your own peanut butter in a food processor. Create some “ants on a log” by filling celery with peanut butter and sprinkling on raisins. Dried fruit is very high in sugar, so use sparingly as an add-on rather than a main snack. Plain yogurt is low in sugars and is naturally produced using only milk and the fermenting bacteria. Once you move to flavors you begin to get the artificial ingredients and to greatly increase the sugar levels. Your best bet for flavored yogurt is vanilla, which has the least amount of added sugars. Those convenient yogurt smoothies have a whopping 23 grams of added sugar. Plain yogurt can be combined with various spices to create dips: garlic, pepper, shallots, chives, dill, and lemon. Condiments, such as olives and pickles, can make good snacks, but they have tons of salt so should be used in limited amounts. Chopping up some of these to put in the dip can give it substance and extra flavor. Hummus comes in several flavors and most brands are generally fairly free of additives. Just be sure to keep hummus chilled as it can collect bacteria if it sits warm too long. Any blocks of cultured cheese have limited processing. You can even get “snack packs” from Sabra and Boar’s Head that include hummus and pretzels (more about them later) which have around 7 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of sugar. These are an example of the best snacks - where there are more grams of protein than sugar. Rather than buying string cheese (high in salt) or cheese sticks (generally processed cheese rather than cultured cheese) create your own snack size treats by cutting up a block of cultured cheese. It’s cheaper, you have a greater variety of flavors, and it’s healthier. If I am going to serve them up within a few hours I just put what I want to distribute in some aluminum foil, seal it tightly, and store in a cool spot. There’s the extra advantage that the foil is recyclable. You can make the treats long like sticks or in bite-size chunks. They provide an excellent source of protein low in sugars (lactose from the milk).

Foods with more processing are also more convenient which is why they sell so well. Some are actually fairly healthy, but be sure once again to read labels. One fall back snack for me is Smucker’s Uncrustables – ready-made crustless PB&J sandwiches. If you buy the reduced sugar ones, which come in either grape or strawberry jelly, you don’t get the high fructose sugars that come in the regular product. There is a small amount of fructose in the bread, but overall they have only 6 grams of sugar and 7 grams of protein. The sandwiches come in packs of four or ten and are sold in the frozen food section. I pull them out about an hour before serving to thaw. You can make your own sandwiches, but the bread, jelly, and peanut butter will probably have all the same ingredients and you’ll spend a lot of time creating them. Pretzels make a great crunchy snack and can be pared with dips, hummus, and peanut butter. They are actually an excellent source of iron and manganese, have less than one gram of sugar per serving while providing 5 grams of protein. It’s one of the least processed snack foods and is naturally low in calories as well. Muffins can be a good source of fiber and protein, but not the usual blueberry ones you buy at the bakery. Quinoa muffins are amazing and you can create them with fruits to add some sweetness although no sugar is added. The recipe is easy to make and these freeze well so you can store them in small batches Not all granola bars are created equally, but some along with protein bars can be a great snack option. Read those labels because many bars count on sugars and fats to add taste. Kashi has two granola and seed bars that have around 9 grams of sugar and 4 grams of protein which do not have any nuts but do have coconut which a few kids might be allergic to. I swear by Think Thin protein bars which have 0 grams of sugar and 20 grams of protein in full bars and 10 grams of protein in the bites. There are over a dozen varieties.

One way to limit sugars is to use sugar substitutes. There are positives and negatives to this idea. There are now several novel sugar substitutes which are far healthier than artificial sweeteners. Splenda was first on the market followed by Truvia, Stevia, and Monk Fruit. The taste is not exactly like sugar and there are some calories with the novel sweeteners, but far less than with sugar. For example I just bought some cups of Dole Mandarin Orange slices in syrup. The “no added sugar” option uses monk fruit and still had 5 grams of sugar per serving, but compare that to the 23 grams in the regular option you can see there is an advantage. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are cautions with these substitutes. Some manufacturers now use sugar alcohols as a sugar substitute (most common are xylitol and sorbitol). Unfortunately these can cause bloating and diarrhea. You might also look for natural sweeteners such as agave, honey, and molasses. These have calories but because they are less processed than sugar (sucrose) they also provide several essential minerals. Sugar alcohols, novel sweeteners, and natural sweeteners do affect blood sugar levels so aren’t good for diabetics but could be good for weight control and tooth decay.

All in all, snacking is a huge portion of the food industry. In fact, it is estimated that 23 percent of our food budget is spent on processed foods and sweets with an additional 12 percent spent on beverages, which often include sodas. Therefore we spend over 1/3 of our food allowance on stuff that isn’t really food. We can improve on that just by reading the nutrition and ingredient labels and insisting on the purest foods we can find to feed our families. It’s not a question of going “cold turkey” on anything snacky or processed, but finding a better balance where we focus on healthier snack options while still leaving room for those guilty pleasures (mine are Oreos and Cadbury Eggs, both of which I bought yesterday). So I understand we won’t give up everything, but when it comes to providing our kids with the proper nutrients for pre- and post-activity snacking, we can find some really great alternatives. Since sugars are plentiful in sports drinks (up to 23 grams per 8 oz.) and milk (12 grams per 8 oz.), you could infuse water with fruit slices or cucumbers letting it sit in your refrigerator for a few hours before serving. The rinds can eventually make the water bitter, so remove the slices after six hours. We don’t have to be obsessive, but we can be better with just a small amount of diligence. Read the labels and check out nutrition websites, which can provide you with some great products, ideas for controlling sugar and salt, and creating your own healthy snacks. Look at all the options on the shelves as there can be a wide range of nutritional differences in the same item by different producers. The healthier we feed our kids the better they develop good habits when snacking.

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