Ah, Spring…it welcomes youth sports, class parties, and plenty of opportunities for kids to reach for less-than-nutritious snacks. Registered dietitian, mom, and self-declared Snacktivist Sally Kuzemchak is committed to changing the junk food snack culture at school, in sports, and at camp. Her blog, Real Mom Nutrition, was named in the Parents magazine’s “50 Best of the Web” awards. Her winning strategy involves parents, coaches, teachers, and more. You, too, can be a Snacktivist. Here, Sally shares more about this grassroots eﬀort to protect the health of our children.
Q&A with Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Oldways: What is Snacktivism?
Sally Kuzemchak: Snacktivism is a grassroots eﬀort to improve the current culture of snacking. The way we do snacks today creates an unhealthy eating pattern that can ultimately aﬀect the health of our kids. It’s about thinking twice before serving snacks. It’s about considering whether kids actually need a snack in that moment. And if they do, it’s about ﬁnding a better choice. It’s about oﬀering whole foods and about making fruits and vegetables the default. And it’s about putting foods like cookies and cupcakes back in their place as special occasion foods, not everyday choices.
OW: Tell us how you started your crusade to bring healthier snack options to the sidelines, classroom—and yes, parents, to the workplace.
SK: When my older son was 5, he started playing soccer, and I couldn’t get over all the juice pouches, chips, and gummy fruit snacks they were given after every game. I didn’t say anything at ﬁrst because I didn’t want to rock the boat. But then one day the coach brought fruit punch, cookies, and frosted cupcakes to a Saturday morning game, and I decided enough was enough—and that I had to create change if I could.
So I started talking to our coaches and asking if we could do fruit and water only. I was pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction I got from coaches and team parents, many of whom were fed up with the junk, as well. When I looked around, I noticed that excessive junk food was everywhere in kids’ lives, including camp, school, and church. So I started speaking up at other places, like calling a camp counselor when I found out the kids got sugary cereal bars and sports drinks every day, volunteering to organize class parties and steering them in a healthier direction, and working on my school’s wellness committee. I included a chapter in my e-book on snacks in the workplace because I heard so many stories from people about the junk food in oﬃces, like birthday cakes, donuts, and bowls of candy.
OW: Many parents feel like a juice box or snack bar after a game is no big deal. Is it? What should hungry athletes eat?
SK: I agree that an occasional juice box or snack bar isn’t a big deal—which is why I don’t mind if my kids have these sometimes when they’re out and about. But the problem is that these foods are no longer “sometimes foods.” They’ve become everyday foods that are oﬀered to kids in so many places.
The problem with sports snacks is that they’re so often empty-calorie junk food that doesn’t do athletes any good. During sports, most children simply need water for hydration—the exceptions would be kids playing endurance sports for longer periods of time or kids exercising for long periods in very hot weather (this does not include ﬁve year olds playing pee-wee soccer for 40 minutes!). The best after-sports fuel is something that has both carbohydrates and protein to restock energy and repair and rebuild muscles, so a snack like a banana and peanut butter, yogurt and fruit, or cheese and crackers would ﬁt the bill.
OW: How do we change the culture of junk food so familiar to our kids?
SK: I believe that it’s our job as adults to create a food environment for our kids that makes healthy choices easy and appealing. When we surround kids with junk food, we can’t be surprised when they choose it or don’t want dinner because they’ve ﬁlled up on fruit snacks and cookies.
So when we’re organizing an activity for kids, let’s think twice about whether kids need a snack. It seems like kids can’t gather in a group for any organized activity anymore without a snack being included—but it’s often not necessary. If a snack really is needed, ﬁnd a healthy option when possible. Packaged crackers and juice boxes are easy, but so are a bunch of bananas or a bag of apples.
OW: Can you share any success stories?
SK: That camp director I called? They evaluated their snack policy and decided to get rid of the sugary bars and sports drinks. I’ve heard from parents who have taken my materials to their local sports leagues and rec departments, and they’ve actually adopted them and included my handouts in their materials. I’ve also heard from parents who have gone to their preschool directors with my healthy snack ideas or food-free reward ideas and been successful at making changes. In many cases, parents just need the words to say, ideas to suggest, or simply some support to speak up about these things, which is what I try to oﬀer through my blog and my resources.
OW: How can our readers become Snacktivists?
SK: People sometimes feel intimidated about speaking up, which is why I try to make it easy and give people templates for emails and talking points for discussion. But even if someone doesn’t want to broach the topic with teachers and coaches, they can do other things that will help, like bringing a fruit or veggie tray to a school function, joining a wellness committee at the school or workplace, bringing healthy food for your child’s school party, or donating food-free prizes to a teacher’s reward box.
To get a copy of The Snacktivist’s Handbook, visit: http://www.realmomnutrition.com/snacktivists-handbook/
Kyle Potvin, Oldways Media Strategy Consultant