8 tips for healthy school holidays

Cinnamon-spiced apple rings

Treats are part of any holiday, but a bit of planning can stop you, and any children you’re looking after, putting on excess weight. Dietitian Annemarie Aburrow tells us how.

Looking after children this summer? You’ve probably thought about how to fill the time, but spare a thought for what you’re going to eat too. During the summer holidays, your routine changes and healthy eating and regular activities can slip off the radar. It’s common for children – and adults – to gain excess weight, but these tips could keep you on track.

Staying in

1. Adapting treats

Frozen yoghurt-coated strawberriesThere’s room for treats during the holidays, but six weeks is a long time, so don’t overdo it. With a bit of imagination, you can make summer snacks healthier.

Blitz low-fat Greek yogurt and frozen berries in a blender for an alternative to ice cream, or freeze diluted fruit juice or pureed fruit to make ice lollies.

2. Plan ahead

Weekly meal plans keep costs and waste down and ensure a healthy daily balance. Find recipe planners online or just write out a list of meals. Remember to include vegetables or salad with every meal. Choose quick dishes like baked chicken or fish with jacket potatoes and salad for days when you’re out, and get the children to lend a hand on days in.

3. Encourage independence

Children can fetch their own snacks, help make sandwiches for picnics and pick which vegetables to have with dinner. A fruit bowl on the side and a box of berries or chopped fruit in the fridge at the children’s eye level will help encourage healthier habits.

Cooking with children develops vital skills

Cooking with children can be fun, and develops vital skills. Younger children enjoy mixing and shaping, so make salads, oven- baked fishcakes from fish such as salmon or tuna tinned in water, or homemade pizzas using pitta breads.

Older children can be more involved, chopping vegetables and cooking meals from scratch with supervision. Soups, tomato sauces for pasta, and chicken or fish tray-bakes with new potatoes and vegetables are good starter recipes.

4. Substantial snacks

If children have been active or are having a growth spurt, they may get hungry between meals. Low-fat yogurt with banana, toasted wholegrain pitta with tomato salsa, tzatziki or reduced-fat hummus, or a bowl of low-sugar wholegrain cereal with semi-skimmed milk are all nutritious and filling choices.

5. Sugary drinks

Sugary drinks in cupsFizzy drinks are the biggest source of sugar in teenagers’ diets. A can of sugar-sweetened cola can contain over eight teaspoons of sugar. Pure, unsweetened juices are healthier as they contain vitamin C, but can be acidic and high in calories.

Diluting fruit juice with water reduces the sugar content in each glass, but stick to a maximum of 150ml of juice per day. Water is the healthiest choice.

Coloured straws and novelty ice cube moulds can make it more interesting, or add chopped cucumber, strawberries and lemon.

6. Something for everyone

Cook one dish for everyone. Fussy eaters might resist at first, but they will eat if they are hungry. If children are used to having a separate dish, ease them into the new approach with a meal that can be adapted.

A simple tomato sauce with pasta can have chicken, chickpeas, lean minced beef or vegetables added. Get children to try some of yours and see if they like it.

Going out

7. Nutritious nibbles

Cinnamon-spiced apple ringsBuying snacks when you’re out can be expensive, and they’re often high in fat, sugar and calories. Try carrot or bread sticks instead of crisps, or chopped watermelon to prevent demands for ice cream. Under-fives will need more substantial snacks. These should be combinations of fruit and vegetables with starchy carbohydrate (bread, breadsticks, rice cakes, currant buns) or protein (yogurt or pulses).

Hand out snacks that must be kept cool in the morning and save hardier options (dried fruit or currant buns) for the afternoon. Freeze tap water in plastic bottles for cold drinks all day.

8. Restaurant meals

Most restaurants have menus online, so consider the healthiest choices in advance. If there aren’t healthy options, enquire about grilled rather than battered foods or jacket potatoes in place of chips. Sharing a main, such as pizza, and a side salad between children can also be healthier and cheaper.

Many children’s meals are high in salt, which could contribute to them developing a taste for it from an early age. Read labels or nutrition information on menus, and watch out for salty ingredients like processed meat, cheese, pickles, soup, soy sauce and fish sauce. Don’t add salt to children’s food.

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