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 www.tallgrasskitchen.com.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Melissa Wardy of Verona pushes positive messages

I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Verona resident Melissa Wardy got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.

Mama Madison: Three cheers for reading at the Wisconsin Book Festival

Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.

Mama Madison: What's in a name?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.

Mama Madison: Eugster's is more than just a visit to the farm

At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.

Help for home-schoolers at the Madison Mentor Center

Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"

Mama Madison: Yummy Sprout is a wonderful resource

After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?

Mama Madison: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.

Mama Madison: Back-to-school confidences

Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.

Mama Madison: Does back-to-school really mean a whole new wardrobe?

This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"

Mama Madison: Next generation of bloggers

Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.

Mama Madison: Returning to the workforce

This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.

Triathlons raise money to teach kids healthy habits

"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.

Mama Madison: Kids will find their own passions in their own ways

"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

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.