Are you having a hard time keeping your kids on a healthy diet this summer? To be honest, it’s harder than it looks even though there are so many healthy options around.
Since we know how difficult it can be to maintain a healthy lifestyle once school is out, we decided to provide you all with an article containing tips for a fun, healthy, creative way to keep your kids on track!
Gardens heavy with pea pods and tomatoes, farmers’ markets spilling over with peppers and nectarines, platters of lush salads, bowls of ripe fruit, everything bursting with color and health… That’s one kind of summer eating. But what about the other kind? The one that involves endless highways of fast-food joints, beaches awash in soda and French fries, and an in-flight meal that’s either nonexistent or inedible? Summer travel presents some logistical challenges for anybody wanting to eat healthfully—and, especially, for anybody wanting their kids to eat healthy. Whether you’re road-tripping or flying, beach going or forest-hiking—or doing all four—we’ve got loads of healthy on-the-go snacks and strategies.
And just to be clear, we’re not saying No ice cream. We’re saying Don’t call ice cream lunch. Mix and match the ideas below—that way, you’ll get the nutrients into the kids whenever you can. And there will still be a little room left over for vacation treats.
On the Plane
To quote Woody Allen: “The food is terrible…and such small portions!” These days, airplanes often mean no food or bad food. Bring plenty of nourishing snacks, and include some that can moonlight as a meal on longer flights or in the event of a delay.
Tote fruit. Bananas, oranges, and clementines come prepackaged in their own peels (keep in mind that a forgotten banana will soon make itself known); bring these inside a zipper-lock bag, which does double-duty as fruit protector and peel receptacle. Dried fruit travels well and can satisfy a sweet tooth without the unnatural ingredients of soda or some candy; sour cherries, pineapple, and California apricots are especially tasty and tangy-sweet.
Vary veggies. There is something artificial about an airplane environment that compels everyone to crave the snap of something fresh. Baby carrots are an obvious choice, but you can also liven up the flight with brighter, more unusual offerings: something green, such as lightly steamed snap peas, green beans, or—for a veggie that doubles as an activity—edamame; something crunchy, such as radishes or sticks of jicama, celery, fennel, or bell peppers; and something little, such as cherry tomatoes or baby cukes. (If you pack a disposable tub of dip or dressing, remember the TSA’s 3.4 -ounces-and-under rule.)
Go crackers. We like crunchy whole wheat Ak-Maks and tangy four-ingredient Finn Crisps (whole-rye flour, water, salt, and yeast). For topping, think protein: Bring along wrapped single-serving cheeses, such as string cheese or Mini Babybels, or single-serving packets of peanut or almond butter (look for Justin’s), which can also be squeezed onto a stalk of celery.
Pre-fuel. Make sure nobody boards the plane hungry and you’ll eliminate the need for emergency in-flight potato-chip-scarfing. There are now a large variety of airport takeout cafes and restaurants that do sell healthy items; to locate them, download an app, like the free GateGuru.
In the Car
Road-tripping along America’s highways offers lovely views of pasture, orchards, and farmland—too bad the roadside food options aren’t quite as pretty. Use the family time together to talk about better food choices and how to identify them, so that when hunger strikes on the road, your kids will know what their healthy options are:
Make it a treasure hunt. If you stop for snacks on the road, play a game of I Spy the Healthy Snacks at the convenience store or gas stop. Show kids how to locate the most nutritious options: whole foods (nuts, seeds, some trail mix, fruit, hard-boiled eggs), wholesome foods (yogurt, cheese sticks, some types of energy bars), less bad foods (whole-grain tortilla chips, cheese popcorn, jerky, smoothies), and better drink options (coconut water, flavored seltzer, milk). This might involve learning to identify foods that still look the way they looked while they were growing (fruit and seeds, say) as well as learning to read labels (to look for protein, fiber, and calcium, for example, or to watch out for sugar).
Mixed drinks. We’re big fans of buying a healthy drink and a slightly less healthy drink and mixing them to make two pretty-healthy drinks. Favorite pairings include one third chocolate milk with two thirds low-fat milk, and one third real fruit juice with two-thirds fizzy water.
Better bars. It’s a brave new world of energy bars and granola bars—especially for those of us who grew up knowing only the crunchy, rectangular-oatmeal-cookie kind. Look for bars made entirely of nuts and dried fruit, such as Larabars, or with added whole grains, such as Kind bars, or, if anybody’s fading, with loads of protein, such as Clif Bars or Powerbars. (A cautionary note: Some of these are loaded with sugar so be sure to read the labels.) Or make your own with an easy, adaptable recipe that the kids can help with.
Eat a real meal. Forgo fast food and try to find a healthy option or, at least, something with a little local color. The Web site RoadTrippers.com lets you research your trip ahead of time—just plug in your start and end points to locate the best dining options en route. Of course, Yelp, Zagat, and Roadfood are all helpful dining sites.
At the Beach
Lying on the blazing beach all day eating barbecue potato chips from an economy-size bag will leave kids and adults alike feeling too parched and bloated to enjoy themselves. So pack your cooler full of refreshing, nutritious picnic food—the kind that’s fresh and sand-resistant, and lets you save yourself for a good dinner (and a mid afternoon ice cream from the ding-dong truck).
Pack plenty of drinks. We like to add a splash of juice to bottles of water, and then freeze these overnight; the “juicy water” is less sugary than juice and more exciting than water, and the frozen bottles stay cold and keep the cooler cold, too. Fruity iced teas, also with a splash of juice, make another good beach side quencher.
At the Park
On a running-around kind of day, or a hit-the-trails kind of weekend, go for nutrient-dense snacks that offer the salty pleasure of what our kids call “bag snacks” along with the nourishing wallop of super food ingredients. Nori crisps are a great store-bought option, as are baked pita chips and baked root vegetable chips, but there are plenty of homemade ones, too:
Hail to the kale. Kale chips are salty and addictive, and even the most strident green-hater can be persuaded to try them.
Spice it up. Roasted chickpeas are crunchy like nuts and packed with protein—but with only a fraction of the fat. They’ll take to whatever seasonings you favor, including Old Bay, curry powder, smoked paprika, or a bit of cayenne. Pumpkin seeds or hulled green pepitas can also be prepared in much the same way, and are tasty and full of nutrients.
Get poppin’. A stove top Whirley Pop Popcorn Popper makes popping corn from scratch so easy and satisfying that you can assign the task to your kids. Besides, popcorn’s a whole food—and it’s full of fiber! Stick with a sprinkle of salt; add your favorite spices or herbs such as cinnamon or curry powder; or try the surprisingly delicious topping of nutritional yeast, packed with B complex vitamins.
Bag them up. Homemade snacks pose a portion-control issue, since they’re not already measured out. In one study of children and snack patterns, Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, found that children given snacks in a bag—a finite portion—did not crave more; those same snacks on a plate, however, suggested to the kids that there were more and so the kids wanted more. (We like old-fashioned wax-paper bags for snack portioning.)
Or put them in containers. Kids Konserve makes a fantastic line of leak proof stainless-steel containers. We find the small- and medium-size round ones especially versatile for anything from applesauce or yogurt to cashews or cheese cubes.