Balancing Healthy Food with Vacation Fun

This is the fifth (and final!) column in a series about talking to kids about food.  I’ve told you how to use the colors of the rainbow to point out how different foods help our bodies, given you a few helpful phrases to use with your kids, and even offered suggestions about how to address food at gatherings. Last month’s column, which was perhaps one of my most popular, was about using the phrase “You don’t have to eat it.” 

Did you give it a try?  If so, I’d love to hear how it’s going!

The end of summer (sadly) signals the end of all those fun vacations, and I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else finds navigating kids and food difficult while traveling with family and friends?  We just returned from a trip with my husband’s family, and fourteen (!!!) of us were under one roof for a week.  With six grandchildren who are used to different rules about food, there were lots of opportunities for disagreement—mostly between my husband and me!

At stand-alone gatherings, it’s easy to let your kid indulge in a second dessert, knowing you’ll be home in a couple hours.  But what happens when your child is surrounded by foods that are normally not offered at your house?  If it’s vacation, aren’t you all supposed to be having fun?!

My husband and I discussed this topic on our drive home, and we came up with some tips to balance our kiddo’s normal mealtime routine with ‘vacation variables,’ like soda and junk food.  Perhaps our experience will resonate with some of you.

First, discuss with your spouse how much of your normal routine you’d like to maintain while on a trip where ‘out of bounds’ foods will be available, and how will you handle your child’s requests?  This is where my husband and I failed.  Instead of being on the same page, I said ‘no’ and my husband said ‘yes’ to our daughter all week.  Ugh.  Perhaps this means a 100% normal routine, with no room for deviation.  Perhaps it means a total free-for-all.  (FYI, I don’t recommend either of those approaches.) 

As a dietitian, a parent, and a reasonable adult, I recommend you stick to a mostly normal routine, but relax the rules a bit if they are in stark contrast to other guests in your midst.  You’re all on vacation to have fun, and a few extra Oreos never killed anyone.  For example, my daughter ate a lot of Toaster Strudel for breakfast (not my first choice), but I continued to offer yogurt as well as a source of protein. 

This also applies to your rules about meals, not just the foods on their plate.  For instance, I still used the same verbiage and norms at mealtimes, such as “That’s all I’m offering,” or “No, you may not have a snack, dinner is soon.”  While my kiddo may have had a lot of non-typical foods on our trip, I tried to maintain the same expectations about food as we have at home.

Second, begin the day with a healthy breakfast.  If you’re a family of early risers, you may not even have to deal with cousins or friends who eat wildly different foods than your own child.  It’s a great opportunity to start the day off on the right foot.  Always offer a balanced breakfast that isn’t high in added sugar.  (Easier said than done, I know.)  If you typically make oatmeal from scratch at home and that’s not realistic on your trip, offer the store-bought pouches instead.  Sure, they’re higher in added sugar, but your kiddo will likely eat it, it has plenty of fiber, and when offered with a source of protein—like milk—is a balanced breakfast.

Third, keep fruits and veggies out and easy to reach for snacking, and offer them with all meals.  If it’s not on their plate, they can’t eat it.  Steamable bags of veggies are the best things since sliced bread (better!), and make easy additions to lunches and dinners for youngsters.  While our kiddo ate lots of non-typical snacks during our trip, she also ate a lot of watermelon.  I packed baby carrots, bell peppers and snap peas in our cooler, so I was able to offer my kiddo a selection of veggies at lunch and dinner even before anyone hit the grocery store.

Lastly, try to relax!  (I know, it’s HARD.)  Telling my kid ‘no’ to requests for soda 500 times a day was frustrating.  Instead, she got a few sips from her father’s can every once in awhile.  Try to remember that your trip is only for a few days, and that in the grand scheme of things, ‘vacation eating’ isn’t going to ruin your kids for life.  In fact, it’s a great opportunity for you to model both eating treats in moderation and making healthy choices while away from home for your kids.

Thanksgiving will be here before we know it—if you’re traveling, it’s a perfect time put all this into practice!

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