Three strategies for no-fuss, healthy summer eating

Put the 'care' in 'carefree'

All parents want their kids to be happy and healthy, but the rates of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes tell us we're missing the mark. School lunches and vending machine options have often been the focus of diet improvement efforts, though if we're being honest, meals at home aren't always the greatest either.

Summer eating brings extra challenges and temptations. Kids spend more time at home, maybe with access to snacks; mealtimes may be less structured; the ice cream trucks patrol the neighborhoods; and concession stands are everywhere from the beach to the zoo.

But some wise shopping and a few minutes in the kitchen can result in delicious and nourishing snacks to eat all week. A summer of wholesome snacking can help give kids the knowledge they need to make good food choices all year long.

Wet and wild

High temperatures and high spirits make for sweaty kids. Keep the liquids coming, but skip the soft drinks and straight-up juice. Your ice-cold quencher can be as simple as a big pitcher of ice water with cut up lemons, limes, oranges and strawberries - or you can get a little fancy.

A great house drink is the Arnold Palmer. Typically half iced-tea and lemonade, it has a zillion variations. Brew some of your favorite tea, squeeze in some citrus, and add a few splashes of 100% juice to sweeten it; serve over ice with a straw. Try hibiscus tea, squeezed lime and pomegranate juice, or black tea, squeezed lemon and peach nectar.

Agua fresca, a popular fruit refresher in Latin America, is another kid-friendly drink loaded with vitamins. Puree half a medium ripe watermelon, cantaloupe or a pint of strawberries in the blender until ultra-smooth. Push the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve to remove the solids. Mix three parts fruit to one part cold water and squeeze in some lime.

Cold comfort

Keep the freezer loaded with homemade ice pops and you'll never have to scramble for change when the ice cream truck comes ringing. Most anything that is yummy and healthy to drink can be frozen into a stellar popsicle. One tip: Things taste less sweet when frozen, so your liquid should be slightly sweeter than you want your frozen treat to be.

Purchase a ready-made mold, or use small paper cups and wooden sticks. When using paper cups, let the mixture freeze for one to two hours, then put in your popsicle sticks so they stand up in the slushy liquid. Freeze until solid.

Combine plain yogurt and juice or pureed fruit, or make an herb-infused simple syrup mixed with fruit. Try this: Puree fresh strawberries or peaches and set aside. Mix together ½ cup water and ½ cup sugar over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add a small bunch of basil to the simple syrup, and let steep for a few minutes to a few hours. Strain out basil leaves and add basil syrup to the pureed fruit by the tablespoonful, until it is as sweet as you like. Freeze in molds. (Use leftover syrup to make a smashing cocktail for mom and dad.)

I rarely recommend one-trick ponies for the kitchen, but I'm totally smitten with the Zoku quick pop maker. It is similar to the contemporary ice cream maker, with a bucket filled with mystery liquid that you keep in your freezer. The Zoku can freeze liquid into popsicles in seven minutes flat. A three-pop maker is about $50 and can be used three times consecutively to make nine pops before it needs to be refrozen. A little spendy, but depending upon how spontaneous you like to be with your frozen treats, it may be worth it. It will save hours of listening to your children asking if the pops are ready.

Small-plate dining

Summer sun and activities eat up the kcals quickly, and a hungry kid is a cranky kid. Use snacks and lunchtime as an opportunity to refuel with whole grains, protein and lots of fruits and veggies.

Think about "assembling" lunch rather than preparing it. Throw together a meze platter with pantry and fridge staples, fresh fruit, vegetables and dips. Options include pitted olives, pickles (try the fermented kind), whole-wheat pita, hummus, black bean dip, salsa, tzatziki, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, leftover grilled chicken, cheese cubes, nuts and dried fruit. A simple dessert can be cut-up fruit, frozen on skewers. Mix together yogurt, nut butter and a little honey for fruit dip.

For a protein-rich snack or dessert, serve peanut-butter-coconut "energy bites" - a healthier riff on what your mother may have referred to as peanut butter balls. Times are definitely changing.

Energy Bites
Makes approximately 40 "bites"

  • 1 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1 cup malted milk powder
  • 2 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • 1/3 cup agave syrup
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup brown crisped rice cereal
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped fine

Add all ingredients to large bowl and stir well. Roll rounded teaspoons into small balls and store in a single layer in the fridge.

Anna Thomas Bates blogs about cooking and feeding kids at

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.

Make Music Madison gives young artists a chance to perform

The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.

Mama Madison: Watching talent grow

Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.

Mama Madison: Writing time at Olbrich

If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.

Mama Madison: When UW-Madison's semester is over, the kids want out too

There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.

Mama Madison: Another amazing talent show

My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.

Mama Madison: Preserving children's stories

My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.

Tenting tonight? Not so fast -- take the time to prepare for the first family camping trip

What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.

Mama Madison: It's time for the college tour

I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.

Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!