School is out and schedules are scattered. Summer can be a hard time to get kids to eat healthy. But, with a little planning and the right summer recipes for kids, we can ensure that they have delicious food choices available throughout the day.
The importance of summer meal planning for kids
Andrea Berez, a registered dietitian at NJ Pediatric & Family Nutrition, says planning summer meals for kids is always key to staying on track with a healthy diet. “Be conscious of your day’s activities, and plan your family’s meals and snacks accordingly,” she says.
Dietitian Bracha Kopstick of BeeKay Nutrition says keeping a schedule can help and suggests snack and meal times should be consistent every day so kids aren’t constantly asking for snacks.
“Stick with quick and uncomplicated meals that don't need much preparation,” Kopstick says. “Use canned beans and fish as protein sources, along with fresh produce.”
Looking for some tips for family meal planning? Berez recommends a whole grain sandwich, pita or wrap with roasted chicken or turkey, natural nut or seed butter, or hummus, with sliced veggies and cheese as a quick, healthy choice. For snacks, she suggests packing yogurt, string cheese, fruit, or cut-up veggies, and cutting down on treats. “Single serving packages or pre-measured servings of chips or cookies should please all,” she says.
Seek kid-friendly alternatives to popular summer foods
Delicious treats like ice cream, chips and pretzels are summer staples, but they can contain lots of fat, sugar and sodium. To control how many these snacks your kids eat, Berez suggests talking to them ahead of time about whether they can have a treat that day.
“If they know what to expect, tantrums can be kept to a minimum, which helps keep the day pleasant and relaxed for the whole family,” she says. “If they choose to get ice cream, always keep it to a kiddie size, and skip the toppings some days.”
To ensure summer meals for kids doesn’t get out of hand, kids should also be eating treats at home, most days, says Berez. “That way you have more control over their choices and you can even make an activity out of preparing homemade frozen treats,” like frozen watermelon and frozen yogurt “ice cream” sandwiches.
Alternative summer recipes for kids
Mandy Enright, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the NJ Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, suggests making your own “nice cream”. This kid-friendly summer recipe comes together by blending together frozen bananas and fruit. “Not only will your homemade frozen treats help kids eat more fruit, but they will also keep them hydrated,” she says.
And what about summer food for kids that’s a healthier version of their favorite salty snacks? Pediatric registered dietitian Courtney Bliss of Feeding Bliss suggests swapping chips with homemade kale chips. “They’re fun for the kids to help make, have less processed ingredients, and more vitamins and minerals,” she says.
For a well-balanced, wholesome summer food for kids, try our Protein Poppers. As their name suggests, their packed full of protein with grains, seeds, and just the right amount of sweetness. Try them for breakfast or at snack times as a great alternative to grocery store granola bars.
Parents should also pay attention to the serving size of the snacks their kids are consuming, as it’s usually ½ cup. “Encourage your family to eat slow and savor the flavor,” says Berez.
Kid-friendly recipes for swapping out sugary summer drinks
Soda, ice tea, and lemonade are popular drink choices when the weather gets warmer, but they contain a lot of sugar.
In place of these sugary drinks, Enright suggests the following summer recipe for kids: infusing water for a healthier alternative. Start with plain or sparkling water and add in fresh or frozen fruit, veggies (like a cucumber), and herbs to create a tasty flavored beverage.
Low fat or nonfat milk is also a great way for kids to stay hydrated. “Chocolate milk can even be an option for kids to enjoy on occasion in place of soda,” Enright says. “Not only is there less sugar in chocolate milk compared to soda, but milk also has health benefits of protein and calcium which promote healthy bone growth, unlike soda which actually causes bones to weaken.”
And parents should be careful serving smoothies as a part of their summer meal plan for kids. “It’s easy to lose track of how much goes in there,” Enright says. “Before we know it, we can have a smoothie with as much sugar as an ice cream sundae!” As a rule of thumb, stick to the following kid-friendly summer recipe for a smoothie: no more than one cup of fruit in a smoothie and add in veggies like spinach, shredded carrots, beets or sweet potato.
“Make sure to have a protein source in your smoothie as well. This will help to make the smoothie more filling so kids don’t get hungry too soon,” Enright says. Good protein options for smoothies include Greek yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, silken tofu, nuts, seeds, or nut/seed butters. Add on a splash of low-fat or nonfat milk, Enright says, for added protein, calcium and vitamins.
Healthy summer meals for kids on the grill
When it comes to grilling kid-friendly summer meals, it’s all about the preparation method, seasoning and cooking time.
Preparing to grill: Marinades, seasonings, and techniques for making this summer food for kids
Marinate or season proteins and veggies using low-sodium and low-sugar options, says Enright. And make sure to choose marinates wisely, says registered dietitian Jessica Spiro. “Use ones that incorporate citrus, which are rich in protective antioxidants,” she says. "Marinades that have honey or sugar can result in burning, which can promote cancer-causing compounds to form.”
And remember, you don’t have to place items directly on the grill. “You can use skewers, grill pans, or foil,” says Enright, noting that foil packets have become a popular method for cooking summer meals for kids on the grill. Simply place your protein, veggies and seasoning into a tightly sealed foil packet, and place on the grill. “Everything will steam and cook at the same time,” she says.
Summer grill recipe ideas for kids
Bliss adds that hot dogs and hamburgers can be kids-friendly summer meal options for lunches some days, but they should be served with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of chips and potato salad.
Parents who want to try healthier, kid-friendly summer recipes can change the hamburger meat and use leaner meats with less saturated fats, such as ground chicken, turkey, salmon or tuna, Enright says. “Or skip the ground meat all together and grill up portobello mushroom burgers, which helps kids increase their intake of veggies,” she says.
For a summer recipe for kids involving hot dogs, Enright suggests trying soy-based hot dogs in place of traditional hot dogs. “Soy is a high source of calcium, which is great for growing kids bones,” she says, adding that a “toppings bar” of extra veggies, such as sautéed onions, mushrooms, peppers, lettuce, tomato, and avocado, is a great way to top burgers and hot dogs with more vegetables.
And remember that the grill isn’t only for meats; it’s also great for creating vegetarian meals for kids. “Grilling up fruits and veggies leads to a natural caramelization, which helps to bring out their natural sweetness,” Enright says. “This makes produce even more exciting for kids to eat. Grill up fresh fruit and top with plain Greek yogurt for a tasty dessert. Or have a fun homemade pizza night where kids can top their own pizzas to be grilled.”
Staying hydrated is as essential as the summer meal plan
With all the running around parents and kids do in the summer, it’s easy to forget one vital aspect of a healthy lifestyle: staying hydrated.
To stay properly hydrated in the heat, Berez says each family member should bring along a BPA-free water bottle that can be refilled throughout the day.
Enright says eating water-based fruits and vegetables is another great way to stay hydrated, and these can easily be incorporated into summer recipes for kids. “Cucumbers, celery, lettuce and tomatoes are all vegetables with high water content, while melons and berries are great fruits for hydration,” she says. “Overall, a high intake of fruits and vegetables will keep kids — and parents— hydrated."
Hydration is especially important in the summer because “we can lose a lot of water from our bodies due to sweating,” Enright says. “Extreme dehydration can cause harm to the body, including stress on the heart or heat stroke. Kids are more in danger of dehydration due to having more body fat, so it’s especially important kids stay hydrated on hot summer days.”
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