Summertime is almost here: Lots of outdoor time, travel, summer camp, ice cream and poolside popsicles. All wonderful things! But how do you keep the fun without compromising nutrition and eating habits? First, don’t worry too much about every single food. Plan for balanced meals most of the time, and enjoy some sweets and cool treats without guilt. Let’s look at some basics of summertime feeding and then food ideas.
Focus on Structure
To maintain kids’ healthy eating habits through the summer, the most important element won’t be the food itself, but structure: having regularly scheduled sit-down meals and snacks. During the laid-back days of summer, it’s easy to fall into the habit of an open kitchen or all day food handouts. But keeping structure, doesn’t mean you have to be rigid, it just means keeping some routine and flow to eating. Set some reasonable meal and snack times that get the littlest ones fed every 2-3 hours. For kids in elementary school, every 3-4 hours is more realistic, but of course they may want to eat when their toddler siblings do, and that’s okay too. Much easier if everyone is on the same schedule. If you maintain consistency most of the time, you can be flexible and adjust your schedule as needed for travel and even throw in a spontaneous trip to your local ice cream shop.
Keeping to structured eating times has many benefits:
- Kids can count on being fed without worrying about food between eating times.
- Keeps kids’ appetite on a schedule that matches your family’s mealtimes.
- Maintains a child’s healthy internal self regulation, allowing them to eat as much or as little as their growing bodies need.
- Prevents kids from developing a habit of eating out of boredom or to cope with other emotions–which can easily happen if kids are allowed to graze on food all day.
- Keeps even treats and sweets in their rightful place.
- Good for dental health because grazing increases the risk of cavities.
- Less fuss, mess, and constant clean-up for YOU!
Keep Kids Hydrated: Water for Thirst, Juice for Food
When the sun is blazing or kids are extra active on a warm day, it’s tempting to think that a more filling drink is needed to replenish them. But with regular meal and snack times, kids really don’t need more than water to stay hydrated between meals. Keep water bottles and sippy cups filled and available to quench thirst in an instant. No Gatorade or or other beverages are needed if it’s not time to eat. Juice, milk, and lemonade are perfectly fine to give your kids, and although they are liquids, they are indeed food. Your kids will learn to manage their intake of these drinks best when they are part of the routine of a meal or snack.
Lower Sugar Beverages
To make some tasty and kid-friendly beverages while keeping sugar low consider these options:
- Add fruit to a water pitcher: Sliced strawberries, sliced limes or lemons, sliced cucumber and mint, whole blueberries, or a combo of all of these. Frozen fruit works great too!
- Make sweet tea with half the sugar and add fruit as above.
- Dilute juice with carbonated water for a lightly flavored “soda.”
- Blend watermelon flesh in the blender and add ice.
- Skewer grapes and freeze for a 1 ingredient popsicle
- Blend berries with a little honey and freeze in popsicle molds for a delicious treat
- Fruit smoothies as a drink or frozen later
- Cold watermelon
- Slice banana into 2 inch chunks, cover in yogurt, freeze. Add shredded coconut, chopped nuts or other toppings before freezing for extra yum and texture.
Food for Traveling
If you travel often during the summer, you may not be able to keep the same schedule you would if you were home. That’s okay, as long as you provide food regularly without constant grazing, no big deal. And even one day here and there where eating is totally chaotic won’t hurt in the long run if it’s an exception not the rule.
Lunch boxes have really gotten fancy in the past few years. Planetbox, Yumbox, Easy Lunchboxes and other “bento” style containers really make it easy to pack a meal or snack “to go” complete with matching insulated carrying cases. These are great not only for school, but for travel.
Ideally, when traveling we’d all stop to eat: Take time for a restaurant, make a picnic on the grass, sit on a bench or at a picnic table. But sometimes, depending on the trip and time you have, eating in the car (or plane) is a perfectly reasonable option. Drive-Thrus are not unreasonable options for milk (including dairy alternatives) and Starbucks has a few nutritious breakfast options in addition to some of their sweeter baked goods. Check out their new Bistro Boxes for quick to-go meals. If you’re lucky enough to be driving near a Trader Joe’s, kids have a chance to get their wiggles out while using their own shopping carts and the store is full of ready-to-eat options at decent prices–they even give out plastic cutlery.
Ultimately, if you let structure do it’s work it will allow you flexibility. Have a wonderful summer!
If you have some ideas to add to the summer feeding idea bank, please comment below or join like-minded parents in the Feeding Bytes child feeding community on Facebook and share! It’s a great supportive group of parents who believe in a no-pressure, responsive, positive approach to feeding and mealtimes. Come on over!