The following article originally appeared in The New York Times.

WILL PLAY FOR FOOD

October 27, 2006

By HARLAN COBEN

ENOUGH with the organized snacks.

When did this start anyway? I’m at my 7-year-old’s soccer game. The game ends and this week’s designated ”snack parent” produces a ginormous variety pack of over-processed chips and an equally gargantuan crate-cum-cooler. Our children swarm like something out of the climactic scene in ”The Day of the Locust.”

Do our kids need yet another bag of Doritos and a juice box with enough sugar to coat a Honda Odyssey? Can’t they just finish playing and have some water?

Call me a spoilsport, but I don’t want to bring a team snack. I hate that first day, when the coach’s spouse passes around the sign-up sheet so we can schedule what parent brings the communal snack on what day. It’s too much pressure. Suppose I’m away? Suppose we want to visit relatives and miss that week? Now we have to find ”snack coverage.” And heaven forbid you forget altogether and then the little darlings look longingly for the expected goody and you’re the social pariah who didn’t come through and that one mom, the one who always has the perfect after-school arts ‘n’ crafts project, gives you the disapproving eye and head shake.

The scheduled snack is yet another way we cater to our child’s every whim. Guess what? Precious can go an hour — maybe more! — without eating. And if your child can’t make it that long, bring your own snack. Feed your kid’s need, not mine.

Are none of us reading about the obesity of our young people? Do you think it helps their well-being that after every sporting event our children gorge themselves Fall-of-Roman-Empire style on extra calories, extra sugar, extra hydrogenated fat? I recently sat down with Annette O’Neill, a registered dietitian and bona fide nutritionist, and asked her, ”Do you think it’s a good idea for our kids to have Cheetos and Kool-Aid after a sporting event?” Her response: ”Uh, no.”

And please don’t get on me about bringing so-called alternative or healthy snacks. I barely remember to put on my son’s shin guards and cleats, not to mention those long socks and that black soccer eye makeup — I don’t have time to slice up 50 orange wedges that the kids will never eat because last week’s cool parent brought Ho Hos and Hawaiian Punch.

This isn’t about ruining anyone’s fun or being the food police, but does the fun always have to revolve around food? Do you know what should be fun when your kid plays soccer? Playing soccer.

While we are on the subject, when your child celebrates a birthday during the school day, maybe we can try for a small cookie or cracker and a rousing, even multicultural, rendition of ”Happy Birthday.” Stop with the cupcakes the size of softballs. Have you ever seen the leftovers brought into the school’s main office? By two in the afternoon, the place looks like the San Gennaro festival.

Where did this organized snacking start anyway? Is it a holdover from the toddler years, those half-hour library story times when we trot out Goldfish and those cute Cheerios containers and use the small foods as calming pellets? Is it the Old World philosophy of food-equals-love? Or are we just trying to keep them quiet for our own sake?

I don’t know. I don’t care. But I want you to join me in banning these organized parental sports snacks. Let’s do something for the youths of this country right now and end the American Snack Tyranny.

I will start by asking my friends at the Ridgewood Soccer Association to stop the snacks. Furthermore, I am asking all sport associations in my hometown to follow suit. I encourage the rest of you around the country to contact your league officials and join the fight.

Instead of spending those last few athletic minutes forcing down a fruit roll-up (what mentally malnourished monster, by the way, invented those?), why not have your child gather with his coach, have him or her explain some of the fundamentals (like how being active is healthy!), talk about teamwork or the important life lessons of sports? Maybe even try listening — instead of trying to sneak an extra Chips Ahoy for his younger sibling?

And hey, enjoy your water.

Harlan Coben is the author, most recently, of ”Promise Me.”

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