I’ll never forget that competition—the competition where I made one of the biggest dance mom mistakes that can be made. It was our first away competition in a city I thought I knew fairly well. I had the costumes packed, the emergency tights prepped, and had perfected my fake eyelash technique. The only thing I was missing were snacks. And this is where I made the rookie dance mom mistake: I assumed I could buy the snacks we needed when we got there.
I’ll spare you the details of how being in a tourist town, having no time between costume changes, and how a restaurant closed down for renovations left my daughter overtired, physically exhausted, and poorly fueled. Needless to say, I learned a lesson the hard way. Since then, I've become more focused on proper snacks and making informed decisions about what my little athletes need to help keep them going. If you’re a dance mom, cheer mom, hockey mom, soccer mom, or any type of mom that has the responsibility of fueling active kids, my top five snack commandments are here to help!
There is only one way to know you're buying the best for your kids, and that way is to read and understand Nutrition Facts tables. I use them to make informed decisions about the snacks I pack for my kids' competitions, workshops, and jam-packed days. Here are the parts you need to pay close attention to:
While most of us pick up a box or a can and start looking at the individual nutrients, the Serving Size is the info you want to start with. Many often skip over this part, but in the middle of competition, our kids don't have time for leisurely snacking. This is why it’s important to know how much of a snack they need to eat in order to get the most out of it. For example: how much time it takes to eat 1 cup of popcorn VS. 4 cups of popcorn. This is a big deal if your dancer is expected to be backstage in 20-minutes.
% Daily Value
The next step is to look at the % Daily Value on the right hand side of the Nutrition Facts table. The % Daily Value will help you understand if there’s a little (5% DV or less) or a lot (15% DV or more) of things like saturated and trans fats, sodium, or carbohydrates.
Finally, check out each nutrient in the snack to ensure you’re buying snacks that will meet your child’s individual needs. I look for snacks with a very small amount of saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium. But those snacks also have to include lots of fibre, vitamin A, calcium, iron, and a decent amount of carbohydrates.
When choosing snacks, think about whether or not they’ll survive the trip and a couple of competition days. The thing about snacks is that some are packaged better than others. For example, soft granola bars, crackers, and popcorn can easily get smushed (yes, that’s a technical term). I like to buy snacks that travel well or I take special care and remove them from their packaging and put them into containers.
There’s no point in packing snacks your kids don’t like. The best way to make sure you’re buying snacks they'll actually eat is to involve them in the decision making. This can involve teaching them how to read the Nutrition Facts table and the importance of what each of the values mean.
My youngest, who is learning how to read, understands what should have small numbers (sodium and trans fat) and what should have a bigger number (fibre and calcium) in the Nutrition Facts table. My 12-year old can be let loose in the grocery store aisles. She is capable of choosing not only her favourite snacks, but her dance teams' favourites as well. She reads every table to ensure what she's choosing are things that will help keep the entire team dancing their best.
By teaching your kids about Serving Size and % Daily Value, you're helping them make smart snack decisions. Reading and understanding Nutrition Facts tables is also an important life skill that has multiple benefits as they get older. For one, it will help them make informed food decisions on their own without mom's help.
Also...treats are totally okay. Of course, you mostly want to stick to things with a low amount of sugar, but a little treat every once in a while, especially after competing has ended for the day, is just fine in my books.
White taekwondo uniforms, frilly dance competition dresses, or the fact that you only get one cheer uniform...need I say more? Do yourself a favour and stay away from messy or highly coloured snacks. There's only so much dabbing with water from your water bottle can do.
My snack bag is open to anyone on my kids' competitive teams. Whether the other kids run out of their own snacks or are simply looking for another option, I always pack enough snacks for more than just my kids. Also, moms get hungry too! Let's just say, the last time I wore my Fitbit at a dance competition, I did over 16,000 steps just running from the theatre to backstage for hair and costume changes and back to the theatre to watch my daughters on stage. I don't do quite as many steps at a taekwondo tournament, but being a spectator can make you super hungry too. This is why I always pack a few extras for myself and my favourite dance, cheer, hockey, and taekwondo moms (and mom friends too).
You may not win a medal for it, but being a snack mom superstar will help you in more ways than one.
P.S. If you're looking for some awesome snack ideas that meet all of my snack commandments, here are some of my kids' favourites: