By Jill Castle//MS, RDN | Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Ah, the concession stand. We love it, we need it, and we [sometimes] stress out over it.
We love the concession stand because it offers a variety of food options we couldn’t reasonably and affordably provide our swimmer.
We need it because it offers a security blanket. Nutrition whenever we need it. Nutrition if we forgot to pack water or snacks or a meal.
We stress out over it because the options aren’t always in line with the fuel a swimmer needs to perform. We worry because the unhealthy options are tempting and hard to police.
There’s a unique opportunity that lies in the institution of concession stands: the opportunity to fuel young athletes with the ideal components for performance-enhanced racing, the opportunity to showcase optimal nutrition and nutrients, and the chance to shape and influence healthy eating habits.
Unfortunately, some concession stands miss these golden opportunities.
Research gives us a bit of insight. One 2014 study looking at North Carolina baseball players showed that 90% of foods eaten at the ball field were purchased at the concession stand, where 73% of the offerings were considered unhealthy. This study further identified that 72% of the snacks were high calorie, low nutrient options.
Skeptical about adding healthier items to the concession stand? A 2017 study found that high school students still purchased food from the concession stand when eight healthier food items were added to the mix. In the end, purchase of healthy options was 9% of sales and the concession stand was profitable with an increase in sales by 4 percent.
For many of us, we don’t need a study to tell us there are plenty of unhealthy options at the concession stand. One only needs to look at a concession stand and count the number of nutritious wholesome items (i.e., fresh fruit, yogurt, bagels, fresh veggies, deli-style sandwiches) versus the number of sugary, fatty, low-nutrition ones (i.e., pizza, nachos, candy, soda, donuts).
In many cases, the numbers speak for themselves.
Small tweaks in the concession offerings can make a big difference for the swimmer. One doesn’t have to do a full overhaul and risk losing important income, however, picking a few actions to work on each year can help mold a more nutritious and advantageous concession stand for swimmers.
8 Tweaks You Can Make Now!
1. Determine a maximum number of “candy” items you will offer. If you offer 10 different options, downgrade to five or six. Relegate them to the back or side of the concession stand.
2. Do the same with soda and other sugary beverages. Keep the total offerings simple and the list short. One to three full-sugar items (soda, lemonade, sweet tea, juice) and one or two sugar-free offerings (diet soda, tea).
3. Always offer water. Think about whether you’ll offer a sports drink for sale. Many swimming events are of short duration, so a sports drink is probably not necessary for the athlete.
4. Bring in more fruits and veggies. Wash, cut and portion out fresh fruit into hand-held containers. Add hummus or salad dressing to the bottom of a cup and stack sticks of veggies on top. Place these options front and center.
5. Go for bagels over donuts. Offer regular and low-fat cream cheese, hummus, nut butter and other spreads.
6. Simplify lunch items with fresh sandwiches and salads. Let buyers add their own dressing, toppings and veggies.
7. Want to offer a hot meal? Consider slow-cooker friendly items like oatmeal (with toppings), chili, and homemade soups. Wrap up some egg sandwiches, grilled lean hamburgers, turkey and veggie burgers with toppings for a lunchtime hot option.
8. Go slow and offer options. To eradicate all unhealthy items can dismantle profits, so I am in favor of options, both healthy and traditional. Choose 8 to 10 healthy options you can add to your concession stand, such as fresh fruit cups, whole fruit, veggies and dips, fruit and nut mixes, cheese sticks, yogurt, granola, all-fruit popsicles, fruit smoothies, hard-boiled eggs, popcorn, guacamole packs and tortilla chips, and more!
Is your concession stand supporting your swimmer?
Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, childhood nutritionist, and youth sports nutrition expert. She is the author of Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete. Learn more about Jill at www.jillcastle.com, her resources for athletes, and check out her free list of 70 Awesome Pre-Workout Snacks for Kids here. Coming soon! Eat Like a Champion class for young athletes and their parents.