Jul 9, 2021, 11:52:39 AM CDT Sep 7, 2023, 1:24:09 PM CDT

Healthy summer meals for kids

Get ideas for easy, kid-friendly lunches and snacks for the summertime

Girls eating oranges outside Girls eating oranges outside

Eating healthy during the summer can be a challenge. Kids are out of school, and many families' routines are interrupted. While all the summer activities make the days fun, they can also make it hard to stick to healthy eating habits.

"During summer, families are spending more time outdoors, gathering with friends and family, attending backyard barbecues and events for their children, as well as traveling," says Otoniel Santiago, a clinical dietitian with the Get Up & Go program at Children's Health℠. "It can be a stressful time to make healthy choices because options may be limited, and motivation is low."

See ways to choose foods that are nutritious and refreshing for your kids to help make eating healthy easier during the summer.

5 tips for healthy summer meals for kids

  1. Keep it fresh. It can be easy to reach for pre-packaged foods when looking for a quick meal or snack, but processed foods often contain added sodium, sugar and fat. Summer is a great time to take advantage of all the fruits and vegetables that are in season.
  2. Keep only healthy choices at home. If you keep cookies and chips in the pantry, then it's likely your fruits and vegetables will go to waste. Fill your pantry with healthier options like canned tuna, whole-grain crackers and unsweetened applesauce. Prep fruits and veggies for easy snacking, and have string cheese, boiled eggs and deli meats on hand.
  3. Offer a balance of nutrient-dense foods. Provide your kids with a variety of foods and make sure you're offering a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy in meals. "Focus on nutrient-dense foods that provide the vitamins and nutrients that support your child's health and growth," says Santiago. Aim to include a healthy source of protein (whether plant- or animal-based) in every meal and snack.
  4. Take advantage of grilling season. Summer is a great time to grill lean meats and vegetables for a fresh, satisfying flavor. Grill on the weekends and pack up leftovers to enjoy during the week.
  5. Find healthier substitutions to satisfy cravings. Try making healthier substitutions for some of your family's favorite foods. Replace potato chips with either baked chips or crisp, sliced apples, or swap high-fat ice cream for frozen yogurt. Focus on replacing the high-sugar, high-fat packaged foods with items containing less sugar and fat.

Get your kids involved in meal prep

During summer, set aside some time to involve your kids in making their meals and snacks. There are many benefits to getting kids involved in meal prep:

  • Your child will learn a skill, such as how to handle kitchen appliances and utensils.
  • Your child can grow to be independent in the kitchen and help make their own meals – which boosts their confidence.
  • Your child will learn about healthy foods and their benefits.

Summer lunch ideas for kids

Involve your kids in meal planning and grocery shopping. Together you can brainstorm some healthy lunch options for the week. Here are a few summer lunch ideas:

  • Carrot cake smoothie. Add diced carrots, almond milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla frozen yogurt and almonds to the blender. Blend and serve with some whole-grain crackers.
  • Classic PB&J. You can't go wrong with a classic kid-favorite. Prepare peanut butter (or any nut butter such as cashew or almond butter) and jelly on whole-wheat bread and serve with a banana, some baby carrots, or other favorite fruit or vegetable. Try to look for jams and preserves with no added sugars.
  • Pickle wrap. Roll a couple of slices of your kids' favorite combination of deli meats (ham, chicken, pastrami or turkey) around a pickle spear, and serve with apple chips or baked chips.
  • Tuna salad sandwich. Add celery to the tuna salad to give it a crunch or add leafy greens to the sandwich for extra nutrition. Serve on whole-grain bread with a side of grapes or an orange.
  • Waffle grilled cheese. Switch up the usual grilled cheese by using waffles instead of bread. Cook in a waffle iron or on a skillet on the stove. And as a bonus, you can add any vegetable such as spinach or basil into it – and kids won't even notice!

4 kid-friendly summer salads

When you think of meals that kids will love, salads may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But salads are a refreshing option during the summer heat. Here are some ways to get creative with salads for kids:

  1. Chopped salad. Toss shredded romaine lettuce, sweet corn, diced cherry tomatoes, diced cucumber, diced avocado, crumbled bacon and diced chicken. Top it with a small portion of buttermilk ranch or lemon vinaigrette. Try to find store-bought dressings with no or very little added sugar, or better yet, make your own dressing.
  2. Taco salads. Toss black or pinto beans, sweet corn, roasted potatoes, diced tomato, diced avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream and chicken or beef on shredded lettuce. You can top it with salsa or guacamole. You can make simple, homemade guacamole by combining smashed avocados, finely chopped red onion, garlic salt, cilantro and lime juice.
  3. Pasta salad. Mix pasta with diced chicken, diced salami, peas, diced olives, diced tomatoes, diced cucumber, shredded romaine lettuce, crumbled goat or feta cheese, diced mozzarella cheese and hard-cooked egg. Add Italian dressing, if desired.
  4. Fruit salad. These are the easiest to make – simply chop your family's favorite fruits or any fruits you have on hand. You can add a dressing, such as a squeezed lime, tajin or a little salt.

Summer snack ideas for kids

Kids love snacking. It's important to make sure that like meals, snacks are healthy and balanced. It's also important to limit all-day snacking and keep routine meal times, even during the excitement of summer break. Here are some healthy summer snack ideas for kids:

  • Fruit and cheese kabobs. Pick your kids' favorite diced fruit and add their preferred cheese to make a fun-to-eat kabob.
  • Peanut butter yogurt dip. Mix natural peanut butter with vanilla Greek yogurt and serve with a favorite fruit, such as blueberries or strawberries.
  • Watermelon popsicles. Chop watermelon into triangle-shaped slices, insert a popsicle stick into one side, and serve as a popsicle. You can add nuts on the side.
  • Veggie wraps. Add cream cheese and thinly sliced colorful vegetables such as red, yellow and green bell peppers to a wrap. You can add other vegetables such as cabbage, corn, peas, avocado and pumpkin. Pick different colors of vegetables to create a rainbow.
  • Vanilla Greek yogurt with berries. You can also add any nut – such as almonds or cashews – or low-sugar granola for crunch.
  • Hummus and veggies or crackers. Pair hummus with veggies such as carrots, broccoli or celery, or whole-grain crackers.

Check out more ideas for quick healthy snacks for kids.

Importance of staying hydrated during summer

With temperatures rising, it's important to focus on proper hydration, especially when spending time outdoors. This helps prevent dehydration and heat-related illness. In addition, drinking enough water can help prevent overeating.

"It is possible to mistake hunger with thirst," says Santiago. "Both thirst and hunger share similar cues such as fatigue, sluggishness, headache and mood changes."

Here are some tips to help your children stay hydrated:

  • Drink water first thing in the morning. After a night of sleep, our bodies become slightly dehydrated. Santiago says: "As a rule of thumb, have your children drink 16 to 20 ounces of water upon waking to rehydrate."
  • Choose water first. If your child says that they're thirsty after an activity, offer water first before any other drink. Keep low-sugar or sugar-free electrolyte drinks handy to prevent muscle cramps. Avoid sugary beverages such as juice or sodas.
  • Up your water intake as a family. Challenge everyone in your family to stay hydrated. Make sure everyone has their own portable water bottle so they can track how much they drink and have access to water on-the-go.
  • Choose hydrating foods. In addition to drinking water, you can focus on water-filled foods, such as watermelon, strawberries, cucumber and celery.

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Learn more

Setting goals and making one healthy choice at a time can help your family on the journey to wellness. Learn more about our pediatric weight management programs. Or, view more healthy recipes from Get Up & Go.

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