Summertime and the eating is healthy
Holiday time, with all its treats, doesn't mean that healthy eating plans have to be abandoned. Chrissie Russell has some tasty summer food suggestions
Nothing signals the start of summer like the sizzle of burgers and the sound of an ice-cream van. As soon as the sun comes out, it's easy for good intentions to disappear in a puff of barbecue smoke, but the holidays don't have to mean taking a break from healthy eating.
Messy schedules, long car journeys and disrupted mealtimes can leave you reaching for "bad" on-the-go options like crisps and bars, so the big thing is to be prepared.
Nutritionist Heather Leeson (glenvillenutrition.ie) has small children and knows the problem well. "The lack of routine in the summer can mean more snacking," she says. "But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Cut up some vegetable sticks and have them in a dish in the fridge where kids can help themselves."
Other savoury options she recommends having on standby are wholegrain crackers with cheese, baby mozzarella and cherry tomatoes together on toothpicks and oatcakes with hummus or rice cakes with peanut butter or fresh pesto.
"There's no need to buy the heavily processed cheese often aimed at kids - cubes of cheddar, feta or other cheeses also go down well," she insists. "The key is have it available and cut it into bite-sized pieces."
Make friends with your freezer and invest in a few lolly and silicon moulds for fruit juice ices or healthy slushies. Ice cube trays work well for frozen fruit yoghurt cubes.
"A big issue with treats in summer is portion size," says Leeson. "Most ice-creams don't come in children's sizes - making your own is a good way to get around that and buy mini moulds if you can."
Balmy summer days are ripe for munching on fresh fruit and vegetables, but all too often there's a chore-like mentality around eating the green stuff. A super way to put the fun back into fruit and veg is using cookie cutters to create appealing shapes for small hands like watermelon hearts or cucumber stars. If you want to really inject a buzz into good food, check out Pinterest, which is awash with amazing ideas on 'fruit cakes', from watermelon sharks to kiwi fruit owls. They don't take as long as you'd think to prepare and offer a great opportunity to get young children involved and excited about fruit.
Keeping children engaged in what they eat is at the heart of building up healthy eating habits. It's a little late now to start growing your own (pick up tips at giyinternational.ie and quickcrop.ie), but there's still the chance to get hands-on by picking your own fruit at farms around the country (see pickyourown.org).
If you're lucky enough to be jetting off to somewhere exotic then it's a great opportunity to expose children to new tastes, but it can pose problems for healthy choices, says paediatric dietician and mum-of-three Ruth Charles (NutriKids.ie).
"The important thing is to establish realistic ground rules from the start," she says. "If you're having a cooked breakfast then consider that your dinner for the day, no need for an extra 'main meal'. Agree to starters or desserts before dining out, establish 'no chips' days, agree on water at dinner and encourage half portions of adult dishes rather than the kids' menu which is often high fat, high salt and low fibre."
At home, try to be more creative with summer staples like picnics, barbecues and salads. "Don't rely on processed meats like sausages and burgers," says Heather Leeson. "Fish fillets are quick and very tasty to barbecue, or get kids to help make up healthy skewers with cherry tomatoes, chunks of pepper and courgette and prawns, chunks of salmon fillet or halloumi for extra protein."
Swap sugar-laden ketchups and fatty mayos for homemade alternatives like full-fat yoghurt mixed with lemon juice, zest and herbs or spiced paprika and experiment by adding slices of orange, pear or watermelon to salads. Homemade fish cakes, chicken and apple balls or cold frittata offer healthier alternatives to traditional picnic foods like bought sausage rolls and pies (annabelkarmel.com has some fab finger food recipes).
Chat to children about why some foods should only be eaten occasionally and educate them on healthy choices (bestinseason.ie has super activity sheets). Also, lead by example.
"To get your kids enjoying the green stuff you have to be eating and enjoying it yourself," urges Leeson. "Research also shows persistence pays off so keep giving them some, even if it is only a tiny portion."
HEALTHY SUMMER SWAPS
THEN: Ice cream
NOW: Make your own 'ice cream' by blending frozen bananas with a handful of fresh berries and a little yoghurt
THEN: S'mores (marshmallow and choccy biscuit sandwiches done on the BBQ)
NOW: Slice a banana in half and stuff with peanut butter, almond butter and/or a few squares of dark chocolate and BBQ briefly
THEN: Fizzy drinks
NOW: Fruit juice diluted with sparking water
THEN: BBQ burgers and hotdogs
NOW: Make your own burgers, bulked out with finely chopped veg, served in wholegrain rolls or pitta breads
NOW: Blend natural yoghurt with fresh fruit and slip in an avocado for healthy fats and creaminess (no one will even know it's there)