Ahhhhh, summertime! Longer days, warmer nights, and freedom from the rigors of the school year beckon to kids and parents alike. We plan vacations to see family and friends, and to explore new places. It’s a time for kids to grow their skills at sports and music camps, and to see neighbors more often at impromptu evening get-togethers.
While all this makes for a pleasant change of pace from the colder weather and busy schedules of the school year, it also means it’s shockingly easy to take a vacation from the clean and healthy eating habits committed to all winter and spring. I’ve identified a few common barriers to clean eating in the summer along with some strategies to help you stay on track.
The Challenge: Long travel days and unexpected delays, along with the mentality that we’re “on vacation so we deserve it,” often lead to fast food and drive-thru eating when away from home.
The Strategy: While it’s not the most fun aspect of a trip, planning ahead for healthy eating can improve your whole vacation. Here are some tips that work well for my family:
Plan (and pack) ahead. When on a road trip, we pack an accessible cooler for the front of the car with quick meals and snacks and a bigger cooler in the trunk with food for our vacation and to restock our small cooler if needed. It can also be helpful to pack pre-portioned plastic bags of non-perishable snacks to toss to the kids when they need a snack. Fruit, nut butters, homemade bars, and sugar snap peas are all mainstays for us whether traveling by car or by plane.
Consider travel trays. We bought some for the car that the kids can doodle and play on, but we also set them up during “meal time” on the road so they can have a full meal while we keep trekking along.
The Challenge: Summer changes our daily and weekly routine, especially for those raising children. School’s out, there are camps and activities and sleepovers galore, and childcare plans shift. When we lose structure with meals and snacks, mindless eating ensues—and we often grab unhealthy options in quick, last-minute attempts to fill our tank.
The Strategy: Stick with a meal planning routine and avoid mindless snacking.
I often stress the importance of finding a routine with meal planning and prep. Finding a flow in how we plan and prepare meals seems to be a key factor in sustainable, healthy eating—and people often drop this practice when summer rolls around. Consider online meal planning programs or traditional meal planning—whatever system helps you have a plan for the week is fine, just stick with it.
You may want to keep the kitchen off limits during the day unless it is time for a meal or snack. Even though the days are longer, consider setting a time when the kitchen is closed for the night.
Avoid mindless grazing by sticking to 3 meals and no more than 2 snacks a day. Veggie snacks are optimal! Keep in mind; kids often mistake boredom for hunger.
Sport activities and summer camps
The Challenge: With sports, activities, and camps just about every week, summers can look like a circus juggling act—and healthy eating habits can be the first ball to drop.
The Strategy: Anticipate the times when you or the kiddos will need a healthy option.
Check ahead with programs where your child will be eating to find out what types of meals and snacks are served. If you don’t like what you find out, pack healthy food and send it with them.
Just because you’re out and about between activities doesn’t mean you need to eat fast food. Trade French fries and burgers for picnics at the park or beach. Take a pass on the ballpark hot dog and instead, load the cooler with healthy alternatives.
Whatever you choose, try to incorporate protein in every meal/snack. It releases insulin at a slower rate, and that keeps your blood sugars—and your energy level—constant throughout the day.
Barbecues and gatherings
The Challenge: ‘Tis the season for grilling out! Store-bought marinades and sauces high in sugar and sodium abound, not to mention the crackers and chips and sugary treats. With so many potluck get-togethers, it can be tempting to just pick up something quick and unhealthy from the store.
The Strategy: Take it upon yourself to be the one who brings the tasty healthy options to the picnic table. Everyone will thank you!
Make your own marinades and sauces. Bring on the lemon, herbs, garlic, onion, and spices—the fresh flavors will take your grilled foods up a notch without the preservatives in store-bought options.
Grill extra for lunch the next day. Don’t forget that grilled fruit is a healthy, delicious, and naturally-sweet dessert!
Do it, I dare you: bring a delicious salad! Contributing a good salad to a potluck is how I ensure that there is a nutrient-dense option for my family, and it inspires others to eat yummy, nutritious food. Here is one of my go-to potluck kale salads that would make any kale hater a kale lover.
The Challenge: Long days full of activity often push bedtime back and can even contribute to late-night snacking on mindless goodies. When we don’t get adequate sleep we produce high amounts of the hormone ghrelin, which triggers feelings of being hungry. Compounding the problem, poor sleep also contributes to low levels of the hormone leptin, which prevents the feeling of being satisfied after a meal.
The Strategy: Keep a regular bedtime schedule the best you can. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep and kids need more. If you are consistently staying up later, consider a more relaxed morning routine that allows for sleeping in.
The Challenge: It can be hard to keep hydrated during the hot summer months when we are busy and the heat is dehydrating. Oftentimes we mistake dehydration for hunger.
The Strategy: Tune in to when you’re truly hungry and quench your thirst effectively.
I encourage people with overeating habits to drink a 12-ounce glass of water before they decide to eat the snack they were craving.
When you’re hot and thirsty, keep sweetened fruit juices, teas, and sodas to a minimum and opt instead for thirst-quenching water.
And one last tip…
Eat the colors of the rainbow...fresh!
Summer is the best time of year to get colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables. Take advantage of it! Add lots of color and crunch to your plate. Visit your local grocery store or farmer’s market to find out what’s in season. Even if it feels easy to snack on fast food and unhealthy treats, it is just as easy to find healthy, fresh alternatives.
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.