Guest blog! Making a meal out of healthy eating on holiday

A fantastic blog from Alex Thurman of Feed the Brood about eating out with children over the summer holidays – thanks Alex!

Seriously, not another bag of Monster Munch?… 

Anything for a quiet life.

That’s because you didn’t eat any of the lunch you ordered…

We’ll get an ice cream later if you’re good…

These are the happy cries of parents all over the world throughout the summer holidays. As if applying sun cream every three hours wasn’t annoying enough, we also have to battle with the marketing of brightly-packaged-covered-in-Disney-characters sweets and chocolate permanently at children’s eye-level and the glut of everything-with-chips options on the menu. Yes, potatoes can be one of your five a day, but when they’re served up in deep-fried chip form twice a day for two weeks solid, you may feel like you’re pushing the boundaries of ‘healthy eating’ just a little too far. So, how can you relax and enjoy your family holiday without making a meal out of healthy eating?

Mr EAT and bored child in a restaurant, somewhere hot!

Mr EAT and bored child in a restaurant, somewhere hot!

  1. ‘SNACK’ IS NOT A DIRTY WORD – I always encourage a savoury mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack to keep the hangry tantrums at bay but on holiday, this routine easily slips. Try to keep a stash of healthy options up your sleeve to keep everybody’s moods level and to help avoid emergency snack purchases – which will more likely be those sugary treats that the kids beg for in the shops and subsequently cause a mood dip when the sugar wears off. My best suggestions for snacks are breadsticks, oatcakes, cheese cubes, vegetable sticks, crackers or fruit. In these sustainability conscious times, I also try to avoid lots of single-use plastic packaging which seems to be rife in the snack department, so I prepare lots of these in clip-lock mini-Tupperware pots at home. If you’re on the run, the packaging is unavoidable and so don’t guilt-trip yourself.

  2. RELAX and RELINQUISH – There is very important research by a highly respected academic, Ellyn Satter, called Division of Responsibility. It’s your job as the parent to decide when and where your children eat and what food is offered, but it’s their job as the child to decide whether they eat it and how much they eat. In a holiday setting, this can be applied in many different scenarios that we’ll come to later, but just remember that this is a holiday for everyone, most importantly, you. So don’t mar your time with badgering and bullying over food. Let it be. It’s only for a short time and the research shows that they will actually eat better if you back off.

  3. TRY EVERYTHING – If you really want your kids to try all the amazing foods there are on offer, you simply need to let them see you trying them too. They may not try things straight away, but over the years you’ll be breeding adventurous eaters for sure.

  4. CHOICE IS KING – Control is like catnip for kids. Allow them control and they find that they have nothing to fight against. So, strategically find ways to offer them choice so that they feel a sense of their own control. Whether that’s what they wear, what they eat, where they play or who they hang out with.

  5. MANAGE MENUS -Eating out for several meals a day can be wearing on the nerves if you have a super fussy eater. Check the menus before you go in. It’s important to give your child the illusion of choice, so if you want to avoid nuggets for the 18th time this week, dodge the restaurant with nuggets on the menu, and don’t be afraid to make some suggestions from the adult menu. Loads of restaurants will be willing to make a small portion if you ask.

  6. DON’T BE A BUFFET BULLY – Imagine being at a incredibly well-stocked, free bar and the person you’re with insists you order a tomato juice… Your children will feel the same if you introduce rules when it comes to a buffet. There are very few times in life you can go wild and fill your plate up, and this is one of them. Let them experience it! Gently encourage responsibility regarding waste and gluttony, but don’t spoil the moment by enforcing strict rules here. And remember the Division of Responsibility – it’s important to let them learn for themselves what it’s like to eat too much of something or feel the effects of not having enough variety and when you back off they will, in fact, eat better.

  7. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TREATS AND REWARDS – A treat is something you always have as a ritual on holiday e.g. booze at lunchtime, ice cream every day, doughnuts on the pier. A reward is something completely different given as a celebration of an achievement. Don’t confuse the two by using the ice cream as a reward that can suddenly be taken away in response to bad behaviour, because you’ll most likely end up giving them the ice cream anyway and undermine your authority. If you need something to encourage good behaviour, offer a reward at the start of the day that they can earn rather than leaving yourself open to making empty threats.

  8. DO YOUR THING – If you’re travelling with friends or extended family, you may find that your family eating rules are different to theirs. Sometimes passive aggressive conversations through the children (“That’s not how we usually do it in our family, is it darling?”) aren’t the best way to communicate your rules, but if expressed tactfully, they can equally serve as an excellent way to share what you value. As long as you have rational reasons behind your rules, people will understand. An example of this may be grandparents offering sweets before bedtime – you may wish to explain to the children that you think it’s best they save them for the following day to avoid feeling hyper at bedtime. Even if the kids ignore your sensible suggestion (likely!), the grandparents may well get the message that sweets before bedtime aren’t ok with you.

  9. SHARE – If you’re travelling with a group of friends or family, don’t get scroogy with your food, always bring or buy enough for all the children, at least. You’ll be so thankful when the favour is returned! This may also be a brilliant way of expanding your children’s eating repertoire when they get to try foods offered by other children.

  10. AND FINALLY – GET REAL – Remember that if you’re offering real food as often as you can, you’re doing a grand job! All too soon you’ll be back home wishing you could be on holiday again, so just make the most of all the good times and enjoy yourself 🙂

Alex Thurman of Feed the Brood and daughter

Alex Thurman of Feed the Brood and daughter

Cover pic Daiga Ellaby via Unsplash

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