With summer now in full bloom, it’s the time of year when many kids are heading off to summer camp.
These camps are often the highlight of the summer as your kids get to meet new people, share new experiences, and learn in ways that are more enjoyable and stimulating than a traditional school setting.
However, it can be a challenge to make sure they eat properly while they’re away. Teenagers in particular seem to be all too ready to reach for junk food whenever they get the chance.
So, how can you make sure they are eating reasonably healthy during summer camp?
Healthy Eating For Kids At Summer Camp
1. Start with a good breakfast
It may seem that breakfast has nothing to do with eating well throughout the day, but having a satisfying and nutritious breakfast is vital to supporting healthy eating habits. For one thing, it helps to mentally set the tone for the day ahead.
Students who skip breakfast are much more likely to give in to cravings for high calorie/low nutrition snacks, due to mid morning hunger. The old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is true.
Breakfast doesn’t have to be a huge meal, even some wholegrain toast, a banana, and a glass of milk will do. But, what is critical is that they have something to keep their blood sugar levels from dropping too low, and triggering the junk food cravings that are so common.
Check out my article on breakfast ideas for kids.
2. Include all the macro nutrients
Each of us need carbohydrates, protein and fat for our bodies to function optimally. Foods that are high in carbohydrates but low in protein can, however, cause blood sugar spikes, and the resulting crashes.
Also, foods that contain healthy fats can keep those hunger pangs at bay, and help with hormonal function as well. Healthy meals and snacks should include some form of protein, unsaturated fat and wholegrain carbohydrate in balanced amounts throughout the day.
An example of this would be a chicken and avocado sandwich (on wholegrain bread), followed by fresh berries and natural yogurt.
3. Choose healthy alternatives to traditional foods
Many children and teens aren’t terribly adventurous when it comes to foods. They have their staple foods that they enjoy, and often aren’t keen to try new ideas.
So, the key is to make subtle changes to improve the nutritional content of their meals.
For example, rather than using sandwich bread at lunch time, try making their favourite sandwich into a wholewheat pita or bagel, or wrap everything up in a big salad leaf. Instead of ketchup or mustard, you could use salsa, pesto, or vinaigrette. Or, simply adding in a small box of pre-chopped fresh fruit can be enough to encourage eating more fruit, rather than placing a whole apple or orange into the lunch box, which is often ignored.
It’s best to stick with foods which are close enough to their usual foods, with a few healthy changes here and there, so that they are willing to try it, rather than making lots of changes all at once.
Here are some more lunchbox ideas for kids.
4. Limit processed snacks
Kids tend to snack frequently throughout the day, so instead of giving them chips or a chocolate bar, try something more nutritious, such as nuts and seeds (age dependant), home-made granola bars, raw veg and dips, or fresh fruit.
The key is to include as many whole foods in their diet as possible, rather than opting for the typical highly processed foods, that many children tend to opt for out of convenience and habit.
Check out my article on 30+ healthy kids snacks.
5. Include a healthy dessert
Everyone needs a sweet treat now and then, but rather than giving your children processed cookies or pastry as a dessert, try including a fresh fruit salad with natural yogurt, or something similar. Check out my article on desserts for any occasion.
Remember foods like store-bought pastries, tend to include far more sugar and salt (not to mention preservatives and other chemicals) than we use when baking similar foods at home. So for a treat, go for something like home baked muffins or cookies, where you can control the contents in the recipe.
It’s always a good idea to make lunches the night before you need them, as it’s much easier to make healthy choices when you have plenty of time to prepare the food, rather than racing around and being pressed for time just before your kids leave in the morning.
The best healthy meals and snacks are ones that include the foods your kids will enjoy. Often a few strategic substitutions are all that are required to make your children eat healthy and still enjoy mealtimes.
If your children tend to go away to camp for a few weeks at a time, make sure they take some healthy foods with them, as well as their normal treat foods.
Good choices which travel well, include fruit (like oranges, apples and bananas), nuts, seeds, dried fruits, the home-made granola bars I mentioned above, plain air-popped popcorn, and plenty of bottled water, to encourage them to stay away from soft drinks.
What foods do you always pack for your kids, to make sure they eat healthy meals and snacks?