Confession…as much as I’m like any Mom or Dad who looks forward to a break from packing school day lunches, I actually dislike making summer lunches even more!
Maybe it’s because the lines between meals and snacks can get a little blurry in the summer. It can seem like you’re in the kitchen all day responding to “we’re hungry”, “how long ‘til dinner?” and “can we have a snack?” At least during the school day the morning snack, lunch and possibly even an afternoon snack are sewn up in advance and not needing a la carte handling seemingly all day long.
Even those of us who enjoy cooking don’t really want to spend the entire summer in the kitchen fueling everyone else’s fun. So, to help keep things reasonably on track while enjoying at least some of those laid back days of summer too, consider these strategies:
- Do some breakfast planning. Even though the kids may sleep in much later (in some homes, not here), keep easy breakfast items on hand. Slices of leftover homemade pizza, hearty fibre-rich cereals, an egg on toast or smoothie ingredients, for example. Try a peanut butter banana smoothie kids can make by blending 1 cup of milk or almond milk with a frozen banana, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and a teaspoon of pure vanilla. Or, a fruit smoothie with a cup of fresh berries, milk and yogurt. Make a bulk batch of pancakes or crepes that kids (and busy working adults) can simply warm up in the toaster or microwave
- Consider still packing the occasional lunch. (Did she really just say that?) Although a break from the drudgery of packing lunches is definitely enjoyed come summer, if older kids are on their own during the day, consider assembling some lunch items to minimize random grazing or junky food purchases when out with friends. Try a large vegetable and pasta salad that can be a complete lunch meal, do double duty as a side at dinner or easily be packed on a picnic. (Recipe follows) Even if just leftovers from last night’s dinner or a frozen meal they can reheat, the kids will be better nourished. Random snacking often results in a lack of protein and vegetables that are displaced with low fibre, starchy or sugary choices. Just like when school’s in session, occasionally bake a batch of muffins or cookies to have on hand for more wholesome snacks than commercial, processed food.
- Avoid running a restaurant that’s open 24/7. Keep healthy options on hand in the kitchen but try to maintain a pattern of meals and snacks instead of allowing non-stop grazing all day. Put healthy snacks such as cubes of watermelon, grapes, cheese and yogurt at eye level in the fridge so kids will grab them and fill up more instead of endless trips to kitchen for starchy snacks like chips or crackers.
- Involve the whole family in summer meal planning. Bring kids grocery shopping at least occasionally and have them brainstorm a master list you keep on the fridge of easy summer meals: barbecued burgers with fresh vegetables on whole grain buns, grilled chicken and veggie kebobs, salmon patties with potato salad or a black bean and corn salad. Give your teen the responsibility of planning and cooking dinner for the family at least a couple days each week. Let them invite friends to help. Teach them safe procedures and allow them to do the barbecuing.
- Plan healthy food-related outings such as visiting a farm, berry picking, gardening, fishing or stopping at the local farmer’s market for fresh produce. This is much better than carnival food that seems to be available at every summer festival and the symbol of summer eating fun.
- Eat outside regularly. Whether a BBQ on the deck or a picnic in the local park, eating outside can be much healthier and relaxing than inside. Much of the food prep and cleanup is done upfront. Once outside, the healthy idea of a game of Frisbee or a walk around the neighborhood is more likely to happen.
- Minimize sugar overload. Whether an ice cream cone, popsicle, other frozen treat, slushy drink, blended coffee, iced tea, lemonade or cold pop –all are laden with sugar. It wouldn’t be summer without some of these treats but be mindful of portion sizes and frequency.
- Stay well hydrated. Always quench thirst with water before drinking anything else. Signs of poor hydration include lightheadedness, dizziness, cramps, fatigue, dark urine and not having to urinate very often. For summer sports activities in the heat, pay extra attention to hydration and if the activity lasts more than one hour, use a sports drink or diluted juice.
- Regularly pack a cooler full of healthy snacks whether for a day at the beach or a road trip. Use enough ice packs to keep it cold. Make sandwiches cut in four for easy eating while traveling and to spare a reliance on high salt, high sugar drive-thru fare. Rolled sushi pieces are also great finger food. Bring cut up carrots, cauliflower, bell pepper strips, mushrooms, radishes, cherry tomatoes and broccoli florets. Cubed melons, peaches, apples, plums and berries are easy to pack. Camping trips just aren’t the same without hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, but also pack nutritious dinner options like chili, spaghetti, chicken, corn-on-the-cob, baked potatoes, fish and veggies in a foil pack, turkey breakfast sausages, eggs, whole grain toast and more. Let the kids pick food theme nights and pack accordingly – Mexican, Hawaiian, Canadian or green-and-orange food night, for example.
- Avoid getting into a routine of eating too late at night. Because sleeping in can push the whole pattern of meals and snacks later, be careful not to consistently be eating dinner at 9 pm or later, especially if going to bed just an hour or two afterwards. As during the school year, aim to eat well-balanced meals containing lean protein, vegetables and whole grains interspersed with healthy snacks every three to four hours.
Multitasking Summer Salad Makes 10 servings
Turn this salad into a complete meal with the addition of a grilled tofu, prawn or chicken skewer, a burger or salmon patty. Even quicker, add a boiled egg, chickpeas or lentils for protein. Kids can help make this and choose the pasta shape and vegetables they like. Brown and wild rice or quinoa can be used in place of pasta if preferred.
- 3 cups regular or gluten-free pasta like fusilli or rotini, uncooked
- 2 cups coarsely grated carrots (new in-season local carrots are extra yummy)
- 3 cups broccoli florets, steamed for 1-2 minutes but still crisp
- 2 cups cherry tomato halves
- 1 cup olives (or sub any other veggie if kid don’t like olives)
- 1 cup bell pepper strips
- ½ cup olive or canola oil
- 4 Tbsp minced green onion
- 4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 4 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 Tbsp dried or fresh dill salt and pepper, to taste
- Cook pasta according to package directions and cool.
- In a large bowl, toss pasta with carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, olives and pepper strips.
- In a container with a lid, combine all dressing ingredients and shake well to blend. Pour over salad.
- Store covered in refrigerator until serving. Lasts in fridge for up to 4 days.