Kids, Sports Snacks, and the Glut of Ultra-Processed Food

An entry in a baking industry newsletter happened to catch my eye this morning:

For the last seven years, Lance’s sandwich crackers have apparently been the “official snack” of the Little League’s youth softball and baseball divisions (who knew?). But this year, Snyder-Lance is reportedly amping up this promotional sponsorship to help spread the word about the company’s new mini sandwich crackers, shown at left.

According to Bakery and, Snyder-Lance’s new “For the Win” campaign will run throughout the summer, culminating in “onsite activation” at the Little League World Series taking place in mid-August in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Kids and families in attendance can expect to encounter a “family fueling station” which will include “a dug-out inspired lounge with giveaways, phone charging stations, merchandise and games.”

Snyder-Lance “has always been committed to fueling families on the go,” its director of marketing told the publication, as well as being “dedicated to fostering connections for families.”

Those are lovely sentiments, but here’s the deal with Lance’s mini sandwich crackers: just one package provides kids with 140 calories, yet the average 8 year old only burns off around 150 calories in an hour of team sports. Throw in just one extra package, or an accompanying bottle of Gatorade (and as every team parent will tell you, there’s always going to be a bottle of Gatorade), and Little Leaguers will walk off the field with a significant calorie glut rather than a deficit. (Indeed, a 2012  study found that kids who participate in team sports typically consume more junk food than kids who don’t, precisely because of team snacks and sugary sports drinks.)

And while Lance’s sandwich minis are hardly the worst thing you could offer children (they’re made with whole grain and do offer a modicum of protein, calcium, and iron), they’re still very much an “ultra-processed” food. And a growing body of research is raising serious alarm bells about eating too many ultra-processed foods, finding clear (if not yet entirely understood) correlations with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and “all-cause mortality.”  There’s also that fascinating Kevin Hall study released in May, which found that adults ate, on average, 500 calories more per day when offered a diet rich in ultra-processed food as compared to a diet consisting of whole food.

Snyder-Lance reports that its market research has found that “90% of parents say ‘fueling up with the right food’ before the game makes all the difference for kids’ performance.” But is this really the “right food” for kids? Or is this Little League sponsorship merely the “right” way for Synder-Lance to get some reassuring “made with whole grain” claims in front of gullible parents, while getting its highly palatable snacks and brand logos in front of as many impressionable kids as possible?

None of this is out of the ordinary, of course; our kids are glutted with ultra-processed food in virtually every aspect of their daily lives, while parents are constantly being manipulated by questionable, if legal, marketing claims for those same products.

So what can any of us do about it?  Well, I do have just a few thoughts on the subject . . .   😉


Follow TLT on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, subscribe to Lunch Tray posts, and download my FREE 50-page guide, “How to Get Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom.” You can also now pre-order my new book Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World —coming out this fall!

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