School lunches may be something that we all hate having to prepare each morning. However school holidays can often bring different challenges.

At least when we send our children off to school each day with a school lunch we know that food choices for the day are determined until about 3 o’clock. During school holidays however we may feel that children are constantly approaching us with requests for food.

If we’re not careful it may be easy to allow our children to slip into some poor eating habits over the school holidays.

Supermarket shopping

Chances are you may end up taking your children with you to the supermarket more frequently over this time. If your children are like mine you’ll get plenty of the pester power being forced in your direction in the form of ‘Mum, can we get…’.

One way around this is to set out with a written list and the determination to stick to it. Depending on the age of your children get them to read it as you go through the aisles so they are focused on what you need rather than what they may want.

If extra treat foods are purchased during the weekly shopping trip, try to negotiate what is appropriate. It may be better if you allow the children to decide as a group what the treat will be rather than letting each child choose a treat.

To avoid frequent trips to the supermarket, plan out your weekly menu in advance so that you don’t have to go every second day to the supermarket. Research shows that if you shop more frequently you’ll buy extras that you may not have planned to get.

Trying to maintain some sort of eating routine is very important over the school holidays. If your children never get refueled properly then they may constantly be searching for food to fill them up. Even if breakfast is later than normal it’s still important.

In the summer months children will hopefully be active outside so they may be truely hungry and needing to refuel. During the winter months we can also expend more energy just keeping warm, so even a mildly active child may get very hungry. Just make sure that you stock up on lots of good-quality snack foods, and give them morning and afternoon tea.

Steer kids away from refined carbs, unhealthy fats and sugar, and go for options that release energy more slowly and help to make them feel full, such as raw nuts, brown rice, avocado and wholegrain bread.

Make up your lunches

Organise a planned lunch just like you would if they are going to school. Of course if they’re old enough to get their own lunch then at least make sure they stop for a proper lunch.

If they don’t, the chances are that come late afternoon they may be ready to eat you out of house and home. Then they may not eat well at dinner time because they’re full, but later on they’ll go searching for a snack at supper time. This can quickly turn into a routine over the holidays.

If you have a child who’s constantly looking for food and you’re concerned about their weight consider packing a lunch box as you would on a school day. This way you can keep track of what they’ve eaten and they know they can choose from the lunch box when they’re hungry without asking for your permission.

Overeating during the holidays

Just like adults children can sometimes ask for food for reasons other than hunger. Over the holidays children may be bored or they may just pass through the kitchen more often and see some food on the bench or in the pantry that makes them think ‘Gee, I’d like to eat that’.

If you’re aware of your child’s eating over the day this will give you more insight as to when you need to employ some delay tactics. If you are certain they have recently eaten and they shouldn’t be hungry encourage them to come back in ten minutes instead of giving in straight away.

If they’re genuinely hungry chances are they’ll come back, if it was just the thought that triggered their interest then chances are they’ll forget about it in ten minutes. Alternatively, it may actually be a sign that it’s time to have an early lunch or that in fact it is morning or afternoon tea time.

Keep up the fluids

Don’t forget to ensure they have a good fluid intake as well over the day. Water is still the best option. If children get thirsty over the day they may come searching for something to help satisfy their discomfort. Just like adults, children find it hard to realise when they’re thirsty compared to when it’s genuine hunger.

Keeping up with a good fluid intake can help to control some non-hungry eating. As a rule offer a cup of fluid with each main meal and snack. If the environment is warm, the weather or the inside of a home, or if they’ve been very active, they may need more than this.

So, in between the fun and relaxation of the holidays, try to keep some sort of routine going with meals. This way your children will remain well fuelled each day.

Useful school holidays articles and resources

Check out our article on Planning for School Holidays for more planning ideas.

For some great tips on parenting during the school holidays have a look at It’s the Holidays: I can wait.

If you’re interested in some crafting ideas to keep the kids going during the holidays, check out our School Holiday Activities section.

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Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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