Take a look at how to survive summer with these kid-friendly lunch ideas for everything from road tripping to lounging around the house.
Summer, when kids run wild and reckless with abandon. This month on the Eat Well, Spend Less series we’re looking at all the ins and outs of summer eating, be it cookouts, camping, during road trips, while on vacation, or just while lounging at home. I’m sharing a few of my lunchtime tips for all sorts of summer situations.
The Road Trip Lunch
The classic road trip: driving hours across the country in a vehicle, the kids crammed in the backseat, books and screens stuffed in pillowcases in between their bodies. A small, high-pitched whine comes over the never-too-high seat barrier, making its way to your ears for the 57th time in the last two hours, “Are we there yet?”, “How much farther?”
At some point on this journey, likely multiple points, you’ll have to stop and eat, no matter how many snacks you stuff in the box between the front and back seat. If you are going long distances or just trying to avoid fast food stops, you’ll likely need to plan ahead for major meals.
- The Basic Brown Bag: Sandwiches, grapes, chips. This is what I think of when I think disposable lunch in the car, but that is probably because I grew up with it and then translated that into doing the same for my family. Sandwiches stack easily and pack flat, and grapes are a low-key fruit to store and eat, along with apples.
- Greens and grains salad: This instant favorite will be making an appearance in our travels this summer. It packs plenty of protein and healthy fats from the avocados to keep you full and satisfied for several hours in the car, but none of the greasy gut rot that you’d get from fast food.
- Mason jar salads: Like this chicken salad in a jar, mason jar meals are easy to pack and travel with. They stack neatly in the cooler, and they are served and eaten straight from the container they are packed in, which always makes things easier. Perfect for a rest stop, eaten in the car, or even taken to a park for a proper picnic.
- Cold peanut noodles make a great divergence in the lunch department. Plus, flavor! Easy to make ahead and pack, and there’s not a lot of risk of spoilage here, which is always a plus.
- Of course, you could always cook your food on the engine while you are driving. Sorry, I couldn’t resist!
The New Foods Lunch
I’ve mentioned before that it can take 15 exposures to new food tastes and textures before you become accustomed to them, making introducing new foods to children, especially picky eaters, a lesson in patience and persistence.
Summer offers a bit of a unique opportunity when it comes to new food exposure. If you stay home with your kids or even if you have just a few more hours with them than during the school year (say, lack of homework) this is a chance to introduce a few new food items in different ways. I’ve found that mixing up how to present the food can help make it more fun and exciting than saying, “Yes, you must put the limp, steamed asparagus in your mouth,” multiple times over.
- Hummus and Pita Platter: Hummus and pita might be the constants that pull your kids in and open the door to including new vegetables on the plate. Try kohlrabi or other dippable vegetables.
- Fried Okra versus Raw Okra: Have a battle of the okra, serving fried next to raw so that kids can experience both. Serve with corn chip chicken tenders to offer a familiar face on the plate as well.
- Try a cool gazpacho and introduce your kids to a summer soup. You can make a few different mixes, leaving cilantro in one and out of another, for example, to see if they can taste the difference or compare a tomato-based gazpacho to a creamy avocado one.
The On-the-Go Lunch
Between sports clinics, band camp, swimming at the beach, and just general summer fun, you’ll need a lunch that you can pack in the morning and take out when the afternoon hunger pains hit.
- Two words: Freezer + smoothies. I can’t stress enough how much I love having a load of smoothies available in the freezer. They’re easy to grab in the morning to have available for a lunchtime treat or a snack in a few hours. Stop procrastinating and make some.
- Fried rice is my favorite packable lunch. It packs tight, which means it retains heat better, and I use all leftover ingredients from rice to proteins to vegetables as the mix-ins. Eventually you’ll get sick of hearing me tout the wonders of fried rice in your to-go lunch, but until you start vocally complaining, it will make the list.
- Wrap it up. Wraps are a wonderful catchall term, but try thinking outside the box. Monkey tacos, which are simply chocolate peanut butter/sunbutter with bananas are some of our favorites, but you can experiment with all different kinds of proteins and spreads: a different combination for each on-the-go day.
- Any one of your lunchbox favorites can easily turn into a camp lunch or an on-the-go summer meal. This one is easy. What do you pack for school lunch? Do that.
The Lazy Summer Days Lunch
“I’m bored,” comes the voice from the living room. The television isn’t interesting. Video games have ceased to amuse. The stack of summer reading stares up at you from the side table. The sunshine is either too hot or nonexistent, skies covered in grey clouds and rain drops streaming down the window. Whether it happens sooner or later, summer always seems to have a handful of those days where minutes seem to stretch into hours, and there is no promise of the beach in 30 minutes or soccer practice at 3p to break time into more manageable fragments.
For these days, I look around and find something that involves the kids in lunch. Getting them involved in feeding themselves is something I do anyway, but the simple act of empowering them to eat on their own sometimes helps burn a few of those hours away.
- Make waffles or pancakes. Waffles and pancakes are both easy to mix up and cook. Top them with whatever fresh fruit is in season at the moment, and you’ve got a lunchtime activity worth eating. Let your kids experiment with mix-ins and toppings.
- Make your own soda. My kids are always up for a soda-licious activity as soda is just not a staple in our home. Ginger ale is an easy favorite, but we also enjoy lemongrass, pear, and most recently, we’ve been sipping our very own orange soda creation.
- Set up a sandwich bar. My kids have very different tastes when it comes to sandwiches, and what better way to figure out what they are than giving them the option to top their own sandwich with whatever their heart desires. This will be quite useful when packing school lunches come fall.
- Make ricotta. Use this as a jumping point to all the different things you can make with it: crostini, gnocchi, lasagna, pancakes, bread pudding. This is a great lesson in how different ingredients are used in different ways. Plus, if you’re really ambitious, you might get a few freezer meals out of the activity, too.
As always, you can check out what others are writing in the Eat Well, Spend Less series this week: