On top of scheduling the kids’ summertime activities, parents are also busy thinking about what foods to pack along. Instead of pre-packaged snacks or foods that are heavy on refined carbohydrates, high in sugar, and offer not much else, pack foods and drinks that will keep the kids energized throughout the day. Pick and choose based on your child’s preferences.
Foods for outside activities typically need to be shelf-stable and not require refrigeration. More time spent outside in the sun also means an increased need for hydration, so make sure you pack along a refillable water bottle, too.
For an easy, energy-dense snack that doesn’t take too long to eat, pack nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or cashews, or, for nut-free options, try pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or roasted legumes such as soy nuts or roasted chickpeas. The protein in the nuts will help avoid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, while the fat helps with satiety. Bonus: Nuts and legumes are also high in fiber. If your child isn’t into munching whole nuts or seeds, grind them up into nut or seed butters and serve with a few whole grain crackers or a slice of bread. Another high-protein option is hard-boiled eggs – a snack option that comes pre-wrapped in its own container!
While vegetables on their own don’t generally contribute many calories, they do contain many antioxidant phytonutrients that help us stay cool inside. What are some lunchbox-friendly ones? Try crisp green beans, green peas, celery, carrot, jicama, cucumber, radish, cauliflower, or broccoli – all nice “sturdy” options that can sit without refrigeration for a few hours. Try a non-dairy vegetarian dip made with legumes for a nice flavor twist, such as this Lentil Walnut Dip.
Some fruits are more lunchbox friendly than others. Bananas do well without refrigeration, but can bruise if not packed carefully. Kept whole and unpeeled, items such as apples, pears, oranges, grapes, or plums travel well. If you want to pack pre-cut fruit or more fragile items such as berries, cherries, melon, mango, peaches, nectarines, or apricots, use sturdy containers and keep the lunchbag cold with an ice pack.
For kids with a sweet teeth, try making “bliss balls” – typically a mixture of nut butter, a bit of sweetener such as honey or agave nectar, coconut, and seeds rolled into mini balls.
Energizing Meal Ideas
Similar to snacks, think of food combinations that will deliver carbohydrates, protein, and the right kind of fats to power kids through their day.
Salads are an easy way to combine all three macronutrients that give us energy. Combine a whole grain such as quinoa, bulgur, or wheat berries with a protein such as chicken, beans, edamame, or firm tofu, and a drizzle of vinaigrette. Here are some easy combinations:
- Cooked quinoa or wheat berries with chopped red pepper, edamame, grated carrots, and a honey-lemon-sesame oil vinaigrette.
- Vietnamese-style salad roll using rice paper, chopped lettuce, cooked chicken, grated carrots, and grated jicama.
- Corn, black beans, red pepper, and avocado.
- Roasted cauliflower and carrots, dried cranberries, chopped scallions, and chickpeas tossed with olive oil and lemon juice and topped with chopped walnuts (or a nut-free option such as pumpkin seeds if nuts are not allowed).
- Buckwheat noodles (soba) with cubed firm tofu, nori (seaweed), and green peas.
If your child prefers a wrap or burrito-style lunch item, many of the above ideas can serve double-duty as filling.
Pack along a refillable water bottle. For kids that like chilled drinks, freeze fruit pieces and put them into the bottle; the fruit pieces will also flavor the drink as they melt, avoiding the need for juice boxes.
Another option instead of juice boxes is to opt for a carton or tetra pak-style container of milk (dairy or non-dairy) that is shelf-stable. These do not require refrigeration when sealed, and the plain (sometimes called “original”‘ variety) is typically a less-sweet option than fruit juice. They are usually fortified with calcium and Vitamins A and D, so they offer more nutrients in a box than a boxed fruit juice. Be careful with the flavored varieties though, as some are high in additives such as sugar and artificial flavorings.
The Bottom Line
With some strategic pre-planning on your part, camp food and drinks can be homemade, flavorful, nutritious, and energizing. Make this the summer your family breaks free of the packaged-food habit for camp.
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- The Best Kids’ Drinks to Pack for Back-to-School Lunches
- Creative Ideas for Back-to-School Snacks – Podcast