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Beware the Concession Stand

SE Consession Stands

Truly crunched for time and ready to hit the road? Think about picking up some healthier options at a drive-through.

Parents and kids who spend a lot of time at stadiums and sports facilities are often left with a concession stand as their only food option. Unfortunately, when it comes to nutrition, it’s typically a poor one.

The history of the concession stand can be traced back to the movie theater, where vendors sold food outside the front doors. During the Great Depression, theaters hungry for revenue opened stands inside, and when sugar was rationed during World War II, popcorn boomed in popularity. Over the years, concession stands have mostly maintained junk food as their main inventory, and now these stands can be found at most stadiums and sports complexes. Nachos, candy, hot dogs, ice cream and deep-fried funnel cakes are familiar staples.  

Unfortunately, concession stands also happen to be the only dining option at many sports facilities where families also happen to spend a lot of time. The result is an environment that is dominated by high-calorie snacks, sugary drinks and generally unhealthy foods. A study titled The Food Environment of Youth Baseball observed the food choices at a youth baseball field in North Carolina and found that 89 percent of food and beverage items were purchased from the concession stand and 73 percent of consumed foods were considered less-healthy options.

In fact, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “… studies show that while kids who play sports are more physically active than those who do not, they are just as likely to be overweight.”

That’s because youth sports participants consume more calories, drink more sugary beverages and eat more fast food than kids who don’t play sports. The busy sports schedule also leads families to eat on the go at fast food restaurants, as well as plan post-game trips for ice cream or pizza. So, while families are thinking that their kids are playing sports and getting healthier, the truth is that the opposite can be happening.

So, what can coaches and parents do to fix the situation? Here are a few suggestions:

Pack your own food

This takes a bit of preparation and can be a tough sell for time-strapped families, but it’s well worth the savings and nutritional benefits. There are plenty of healthy foods that you can pack: Fruits and vegetables are healthy and portable, and sandwiches are usually a much better option than the hot dogs and fried chicken fingers available at concession stands.

Pick up food on the way

Truly crunched for time and ready to hit the road? Think about picking up some healthier options at a drive-through. While most items at a fast-food restaurant are not healthy, there are some healthy choices that can be made if you stay away from fried foods, sauces, sodas and cheese.

What does that leave? Well, salads, soups, vegetables and grilled chicken are generally good picks. Most establishments will also let you order hamburger patties by themselves, which is a good way to add some protein to a salad. If you look hard enough, most fast-food restaurants offer items that are somewhat healthy.

Change what the concession stand offers

The concession stand doesn’t have much of what athletes need to eat on game day. This one takes a proactive approach, but the fact is that parents have a lot of influence on teams and youth sports organizations. If parents band together to ask for more healthy food items, it’ll be hard to ignore them.

Sure, venues may be reluctant to do so at first, but you can let them know that a recent study showed introducing healthier items boosted concession stand income by 4 percent. That’s a win-win for everyone involved. It’s a growing trend, too.

Stick to the healthier items

Didn’t have time to prep? Did the stadium have a no outside food policy? It’s a tough spot, but you can still make smarter food choices. Avoid the aforementioned fried foods, sauces, sodas and cheese. Instead, stick to nuts, grilled chicken, fruit, nutrition bars, plain hamburgers and water.

Even peanut butter crackers and peanut M&Ms are better than most of the stuff available. Just remember that planning ahead is the smart move.

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Athlete Health Parent NCSA