Mealtime is a mainstay that every other activity in the day revolves around, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the same thing daily. Just like all of the other activities we’ve covered in our at-home summer camp articles, lunches can be changed and swapped to keep things fresh and avoid mealtime resistance. Our recent eating article on meals during quarantine emphasizes the importance of structure, so we’ve collected engaging mealtime activities to help give shape to that part of your daily schedule. Last week’s Camp Quarantine article talked about the importance of “brain food” to keep the mind flexible, but to get the most out of that, kids need real food in well-rounded meals, too! That’s why this week we’re outlining some fun and creative ways to make mealtime and snacks a big part of the day.

Let’s Get Cooking

As is the case with most of our advice this summer, a little planning ahead of time can save you lots of time later on. And when it comes to an event as major as mealtime, you don’t want to waste time trying to pry an answer out of the child who says “I don’t know what I want,” or pleading with their sibling, who complains “we had that yesterday.” Working with your children to plan meals for the week ahead makes lunchtime something to look forward to, which means full tummies and happy children.

A weekly plan is the most time-saving approach. It allows you to predetermine a type of meal for each day of the week but still swap options out as the summer progresses. These daily “themes” don’t have to be strict, either, and can act as a guideline for what to eat on any given day. Your lunch menu for the week may look something like this:

 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

That’s a Wrap

Noodling Around

Another Bites the Crust

We’re Toast

Wild Card

Wraps, grilled cheese, pita pockets, or anything between two slices of bread

Mac n’ cheese, ravioli, ramen, or another type of pasta

Personal pan pizzas are very customizable and enjoyable from week to week

Simple meals, like bagels, english muffins, and toast, can host different toppings

Leftovers, freezer food, or a “round two” of a lunch from earlier in the week

 

If your children respond better to more flexibility, a daily plan offers variety while still maintaining structure. A printable lunch checklist is a fun way to let your child choose what they’d like for lunch by creating their own combination of a main dish, snack, beverage, and a treat. You can use a menu like this for inspiration to create your own template filled with your children’s favorite foods.

Planning ahead is a practical approach for most weeks (especially the busy ones), but when you find yourself with a lighter schedule, cooking with your children is a fun way to spend the extra time. It’s also a great opportunity to help teach your children an important life skill and give them the confidence to do more cooking in the future. Lots of great recipes can be found on this BBC Good Food list, and younger kids may enjoy cooking their way through the classic children’s cookbook Alpha-Bakery, which can be rented through Open Library. Just click “1 Hour Borrow” and browse for something fun to make together. A week of “Around the World” cooking is also a great way to introduce new flavor profiles through international kid-friendly recipes, and some beginner level international cooking is great for younger kids to join in on the fun.

If you’d like to do more cooking with your children but aren’t an experienced chef, you might consider signing up for weekly Zoom cooking or baking classes. This blog post gives a helpful overview of several classes for you to browse in your search for an experience everyone will enjoy. 

Make Snack Time Fun

It’s important to set some table rules for mealtime, but when it comes to snacking, who says you can’t play with your food just a little bit? Introducing a “snacktivity” to your schedule is a simpler way for kids to engage in cooking, especially in the case of younger children. This pinterest board is filled with ideas for you and your little ones to try out, and a snack cookbook is a great tool for hands-on learners. Some classic ideas to get you started include:

  • Ants on a log variations can include pretzels, celery, bananas, peanut butter, cream cheese, marshmallows, chocolate chips… and the list goes on!
  • Popsicles are the perfect cool down treat for a hot summer, and fresh fruit can make for a healthier option
  • Ice cream from scratch is a fan favorite, and you can complete the experience with a DIY sundae bar
  • Popcorn is one of the healthiest snacks on its own, especially when air popped, and adding in your own seasonings is a creative way to spice things up
  • Chocolate covered strawberries are a real treat, and melted chocolate lends itself to a host of fondue dipping ideas

And to wash down the snacks, you’ll need some fun beverage ideas, too. Afterall, what is summer without a refreshing Shirley Temple? Have a tea party, set out a snack assortment, and create some mocktails to upgrade snacktime. To really elevate the experience, get dressed in fancy outfits, and encourage your kids to set up dolls and stuffed animals at the table to join you— they can even write up a menu to create their own restaurant atmosphere.

Mealtime can be a challenge for some children, but by making it a fun and engaging experience, even pickier eaters will grow more receptive to the routine. Offering a variety of options within the structure of consistent mealtimes and regular snacking intervals will help make lunch as fun as the rest of the activities on your at-home summer camp schedule, and make daytime meal planning an easier task for parents.

Thank you for joining us on our Camp Quarantine journey; we hope you have found at least a few helpful ideas to make your summer schedule more manageable for you, and more fun for your children. If you’ve missed any of our earlier articles in this series, now is a great time to catch up or reread so that you can try your hand at some new activities. We’ve outlined the basics of creating a schedule, outdoor activities, crafts and creativity, and summer education to offer a well-rounded assortment of ideas for your at-home summer camp. These articles and more can be found on our blog homepage as well. We post regular content updates for parents and families, so be sure to visit weekly for new topics on the ever changing world we live in. Remember, you’re not alone in this, and we hope to offer some advice and guidance through these challenging times.