When I read the camp schedule my eyes fixated on the two snack times and lunch time. I had been looking forward to a break from making bag lunches all school year. Making snacks and lunches for summer camps never crossed my mind. Camp started the next day…what in the world was I going to feed him all week?
Sandwiches are the obvious lunch idea, because they’re easy and affordable, but…
My son is on a gluten-free, limited dairy diet. We don’t even keep bread or noodles in our house.
Making healthy lunches for kids is hard in general. Making a healthy lunch along with enough healthy snacks to fuel him through eight hour days at Circus Camp is harder. He would essentially be working out all day long…climbing ropes, jumping on trampolines, and doing acrobatics. I got hungry just thinking about it.
I was so worried about what I was going to send for him to eat. During the school year I made liberal use of a food thermos to send gluten-free chicken nuggets, mini corndogs, and fish sticks. None of those hot foods seemed appropriate for summer camps. So, I headed off to the store looking for “cold” healthy lunch options.
I realized while I was shopping I couldn’t possibly be the only mom stressing about healthy lunch and snack items. When I go to the grocery store, I skip past about five aisles full of bread, cereal, and chips making my way to the small pockets of healthier options throughout the store. If you’re struggling to find healthier options and ideas for your kids, I hope you find at least one idea in the list below that your kids will love.
Below is the list of foods I came up with for his first summer camp under the big top. This is what my seven-year old son ate most of the week. There was enough variety and volume of food to keep him well fed for two snack times and lunch time. I did not separate snack foods from lunch foods, but rather packed it all together. He chose one or two items to eat during his morning snack, then ate most of the rest during lunch, setting aside one or two items for his afternoon snack.
- Fruits: grapes, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, bananas, and apples. I picked three different fruits each day mixing it up throughout the week. One day he had the coolest banana ever (of course, as the nerd mom that I am I took a picture). It’s a twin banana…two bananas in one peel. That baby would have made an awesome banana split.
- Vegetables: Carrots, snap peas, mini sweet peppers (sliced into rings, bell peppers also work well). The number of fresh vegetables my son will eat raw isn’t much, so we repeated these same options more throughout the week.
- Entrée: Applegate Farms genoa salami and american cheese with multi-seed gluten-free brown rice crackers (not pictured). I always felt like the entrée had to be something really special, like the capstone of the meal, but I’ve discovered my kids love “snacking” more than a big, hard to hold sandwich or anything requiring a utensil. My son loves his finger foods, so he loves these make your own cracker “sandwiches”. The crackers are also good with almond butter.
- Extra Protein: Hard-boiled eggs. My husband regularly makes a batch of hard-boiled eggs on Sunday to snack on throughout the week. He puts the eggs in a mini muffin tin and bakes them in the oven (at 350 degrees for 30 minutes). Then we store them in the fridge in the same mini muffin tin. I peeled two each morning for my son’s lunch bag.
- Dessert: “Cookie Cakes” – This is our paleo chocolate chunk cookie recipe made into bars for easy portioning. They turn out a bit fluffier in bar form, so the kids call them cookie cakes. Early on in my son’s school career he used to come home asking me to get desserts for his lunch, because all the other kids had desserts. He saw kids eating everything from mini donuts to pop-tarts for their snacks. Of course he wanted a treat too. I’ve found including a yummy, but healthy dessert in his lunch keeps him satisfied and he’s stopped looking at what other kids are eating.
- Other snacks we love: Avocado, watermelon, mandarin oranges, plain greek yogurt with chia seeds, homemade kale chips, homemade roasted almonds with rosemary and sea salt, cashew milk with this homemade chocolate syrup, nut butters for dipping fruit and veggies (almond butter, hazelnut butter, and sunflower seed butter), our paleo banana bread recipe, and gluten-free marshmallows.
My kid would never eat that!
I know you might be thinking your kid will never eat that. I used to think that too. Or you think I’m lucky that my kids aren’t picky eaters. I assure you that is not true. My kids are also “picky” about certain things. One likes peppers the other doesn’t. They both used to hate spaghetti squash, but recently my oldest gave it another try and loves it.
The truth is kids like a surprising number of foods when they have the opportunity to try a variety to figure out what they like. They won’t like everything, but you never know until you try. Broccoli and peas make me sick to my stomach, but my boys love them cooked, raw, any way they can get them.
How we foster healthy eating habits:
- We eat every meal possible together seated at the table. Meal time is very important to us.
- We started promoting healthy eating very early for our children when we found out our oldest was allergic to milk at a year old.
- We’ve always opted for low or no-sugar, non-processed foods, and in the past couple years we’ve gone gluten-free as a family. We try to mirror their diet in terms of the types of foods they eat after our own as much as possible. That means if we’re eating steak and veggies for dinner, we serve the kids steak and veggies. If they don’t like what we are having for dinner, we make an alternate healthy option for them. We used to make them Annie’s organic, gluten-free mac and cheese quite often, but once we went totally gluten-free and stopped eating most breads and grains, the boys slowly grew out of craving mac and cheese. I don’t think I’ve made it more than a handful of times in the past year.
- We talk about why healthy foods are important and what bad foods can do to our bodies. Our boys have four aging grandparents, so they’ve have heard about heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. We do our best to answer questions about those conditions and we tell them healthy foods can help prevent or delay the onset of those diseases.
- We never make them feel bad for trying and not liking a new food. If they don’t like something that is okay, at least they tried. We want them to always be curious and try new foods. We always let them try things off our plates at restaurants, which is how we discovered Jax loves lettuce…especially the big leaves from a wedge salad.
- Sometimes I make a special presentation to encourage tasting new things. Try placing bite-sized pieces in muffin cups or put them on a skewer to make fruit or veggie kabobs.
- We buy them anything healthy they ask for. I get the strangest looks sometimes in the grocery store when my boys quietly pass through the bakery section, but then explode into pleas for bell peppers and blackberries when we get to the produce.
- Although we don’t fault them for not liking something new they tried, we do insist they eat a full meal of the foods we already know they like. We hold back on cookie cakes until the dinner plates are clean.
One week down, twelve to go. I’m glad I nailed the summer food plan early on, because we have more camps coming up and these ideas will also be perfect for picnics and long hikes.
So what is your go-to healthy summer snack for your kids? Share in the comments below. I look forward to adding some more ideas to our grocery list.