Spring officially began March 20, despite the six inches of snow creating a hard frozen crust on my frontlawn and record low temperatures. Spring soccer begins soon, and with soccer comes the commitment to provide healthy snacks for your child and, at least once in the season, for the entire team. Figuring out what to provide in a society that is now in tune with kids who need to be nut, dairy, gluten, sugar and fat-free. I have a grandson with a peanut allergy, so I know how disappointing it is for him when a child in his classroom has a birthday and brings in Snicker brownies to celebrate. He also realizes that his fellow students can’t be held hostage by his allergy, so he stays upbeat. Still, if we can accommodate all the kids on the team, why not? What should we pack for those individual and group snacks? What are some easy, affordable, healthy options?
First, you need a good way to transport those snacks to the fields. It’s less difficult on the cool days, but eventually the temperatures rise. We can use the standard cooler, but that can be awkward and messy with a heavy large container filled with melting ice. I’ve discovered some great options to that cooler. For a single child, there’s an insulated bag filled with gel that folds up into a rectangle the size of a small photo and an inch thick. You store it in the freezer and pull it out to use when you need it. It opens up to a large lunch sack with the frozen gel interior cooling around ten hours. Called PackIt, the sack costs $20 and is available on Amazon in a variety of colors and designs. For the group, there are two choices, both of which are collapsible. The Picnic Time Insulated Cart Cooler ($50), with removable trolley, is a 25-quart bag that could easily accommodate enough juice boxes and snacks for a team. It can be transported either with the attached handle or by the wheeled trolley. Using gel packs to keep it cool allows you to avoid the mess of melting ice and the soft-sided collapsible construction saves lots of room in the garage. It comes in five colors and can be ordered on Amazon. Another option is a large canister that holds up to 60 cans, yet collapses to a disk that lies flat on a shelf. EpicSports.com offers the Picnic Big Dipper in Royal Blue or Mint Striped and is the least expensive at $26 of the dozens of options available. It has two side handles to transport it, but you could also use a luggage cart to move it easily. Again, frozen gel packs offer a means for neatly layering the cold throughout the bag.
Next come beverages. These seem an easy choice considering the multitude of juice boxes, juice bags, sports drink bottles and cans available on the grocery shelves. However, many of these options contain lots of sugar. Neither you nor your fellow parents would appreciate taking home a child in the car with a sugar high on top of a game high! Apple and Eve Fruitables offer great-tasting fruit and vegetable drinks with only 9 grams of sugar per serving (compared to Capri Sun with 16 grams or Juicy Juice with up to 26 grams). Honest Kids has pouches of apple juice, pink lemonade, and grape fruit juice with just 9 grams of sugar. Sunny D orange drink has 11 grams of sugar and 80 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C per serving. The 8 oz. bottles of Gatorade G have 14 grams of sugar, which push the boundary. However, compared to Powerade’s 34 grams, it’s rather tame. A wiser choice for Powerade would be the Zero option, which has no sugar opting for sucralose instead. Then, of course, you could just opt for water. In all cases, be sure to encourage the recycling of bottles.
Snacks cover a wide variety of choices. Fruit is always a great option as it is healthy, non-allergenic and usually well-liked by all. Right now is the season for tangerines and mandarin oranges, which are easily transported and relatively inexpensive. There are the traditional orange or apple slices, but these require preparation and packaging. However, Earthbound Farms offers packs of apple slices for $0.99 each and Chiquita has apple bites with caramel dip (contains dairy) for $1.29 each. A good substitute for fresh fruit is dried fruit and fruit chips such as apple, mango, apricots, raisins and craisins. You can buy these in individual packages. These are sold under the brand names of Ocean Spray, Dole, Sunsweet, Sun-Maid and Nature’s Promise, among others. Fruit snacks and fruit leather remain popular choices. Kids do love these, although dentists will tell you that they cling to enamel with damaging acids and sugars. On the plus side, most contain less than 16 grams of sugar per serving. Kids also like carrot and celery sticks, which can be bought in packs. Bolthouse sells a four-pack of baby carrot sticks for $1.49, and Del Monte has celery sticks. There are several brands of carrot and celery sticks packaged with Ranch dip, which contains dairy and could be messy in the car, but kids do love dipping.
Crackers and pretzels provide quick energy and tummy-filling fiber. You can find many options that are gluten and dairy-free. Jay’s and Snyder’s of Hanover Variety pack has chips and pretzels that are gluten, dairy, egg and peanut-free. You get 20 bags for $10. Nabisco leaps into popular culture with Angry Birds Honey Maid Grahams. These sell in 12-pack containers for $6.50 and are dairy, egg and peanut-free. It may be a stretch for kids to enjoy these, but rice cakes are a great source of fiber and come in various flavors. Quaker Oats has eight individual bags in caramel, apple cinnamon and chocolate flavors for $5 that are gluten, egg and nut-free. If no one on the team has any dietary restrictions or you are willing to offer several choices, then cracker sandwiches are a great snack. Keebler and Nabisco have options such as cheese, peanut butter and chocolate, plus dipping cracker sticks. Most come in packages of eight for around $3. Entemann’s has bags of Little Bites in muffins and brownies. These are peanut-free and cost $3 for five individual bags.
Dairy-based snacks provide bone-building calcium and are low in sodium. Yoplait’s Go-Gurt comes in several flavors and costs around $3 for eight tubes. One of US Youth Soccer’s sponsors is Yo-Crunch, which has created yogurt packs that include crunchy toppings from M & M’s to Honey Bunches of Oats. These make an excellent energy booster to keep on hand between tournament games or the trip home. You’ll need to provide spoons. String cheese is an easily, portable and enjoyable snack. Sargento, Kraft and Frigo are three brands among several that have string cheeses individually wrapped. Kraft also has Jack and Colby cheese cubes that could be combined with some crackers.
For a full, quick meal, many families will turn to Lunchables. These can be not only handy but tasty. However, some Lunchables have extremely high sodium up to more than 1/3 of daily requirements. So be sure to carefully read the labels. The best one is Lunchable Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly with fruit, which has only 14 percent daily sodium content. Smucker’s Uncrustable sandwiches (box of four for $3) can be augmented with a juice and some fruit. Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea make individual tuna salad packs with crackers that cost between $1.50 and $2. Some kids really love meat jerky, but keep in mind that this is a high sodium option for a meal. An alternative might be Old Wisconsin Sausage Snack Bites in either turkey or beef. These are much lower in sodium and are a great source of protein. Both jerky and the sausage bites are low fat.
Buying snacks can be an eye-opening experience. Look at the labels to educate yourself to the levels of sugar, sodium and fat. There’s no perfect option out there, but some are decidedly better than others. No matter what you choose for drinks and snacks, be sure to keep in mind any restrictions other children on the team might have. Providing a variety of choices for the kids insures no hurt feelings. Most kids are pretty savvy about their diets, so be sure to provide them with the information they need so they can choose wisely. Parents and kids will appreciate you being in tune with the restrictions and allergies that exist. But most importantly, do whatever is best for your time and budget. Kids will appreciate any treat they get because for many of them it ends up being the highlight of the day.