Healthy Eating Rules For Kids: From France To Summer In USA

Jersey Shore

Voila, Yippee, and more shouting enthusiasm. We are back on the Jersey Shore for the summer and the kids and I can’t wait to dive right in to the fun, food, friends, family, fantastic weather and American fanfare!

From French Eating Strict Discipline to American Eating Way Too Relaxed Discipline

We call France our home the rest of the year, but this summer trip is our annual right to passage to transition to our American roots and traditions. Food and eating are two big aspects of our yearly rediscovery of the many food favorites we can’t find the rest of the year. This move from the French disciplined way of eating combined with the dog days of summer have a dual effect. We crave and need that relaxed attitude compared to the ‘strict-food’ rules and French standards that we integrate into our daily lives the rest of the year. Summer is the perfect time to let go.

Summer eating is more relaxed and easy-going

And it is a deep breath relax. From having less scheduled eating times, to occasional dining on paper plates and drinking in plastic cups, to eating a larger aperitif, to more flexibility on times and types of snacks and meals-all of this is a big part of the lazy summer dining traditions. Maybe the summer is the same way for you?

Cultural habits don’t leave us easily

But our French eating habits never completely leave us for the summer and I do believe that is a good thing. While the summer breeze promotes a laissez faire eating attitude there is the complete contrast on the other side that I (disheartening) see when I step off the plane on America soil. It is the loss of this sacred gift and necessity of eating where in America, it seems that food or eating rules do not exist.

For this reason, I have a mental list of basic summer healthy eating habits that I use with my kids (and aim to stick with throughout the summer) while still trying to stay with that relaxed eating mode. Two months is a long time and even if the atmosphere is laid-back, kids need some basic eating rules (broken occasionally with permission).

The skinny on my healthy eating rules for kids

Here is my ‘informal’ list that works for us, happy to share these rules with you too:

Rule #1 Drinks-Main drink is water:

Capri Suns, Sunny Delight, Juice Boxes, Vitamin Water, Gatorade, Soda, etc. etc.-all these are put away (or just for once in a while) not bought and not encouraged. These drinks are high in sugar (even the juice boxes which are 100% juice sugar). My kids avoid sugar-free drinks because these contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame and are not healthy for anyone. Want to make water more palatable for your kids? Squeeze a small amount of real lemon juice in the water. Encourage your kids that drinking water with zero sugar will allow them to have more fun rich snacks and desserts like popsicles and ice cream. And then, head out to the ice cream place for baby scoop portions of ice cream! (what?!)

Rule #2 Baby scoops ice cream and portions:

My 14 year-old finds ice cream baby scoop sizes just the perfect size for her teenage tastes. The American sizes for ice cream are humongous. The baby scoop (or sometimes called a child scoop) is a normal size by French standards. The large sizes you find in America could feed 3 kids, extra large even more. Make it a summer habit to order the baby scoop for everyone (I like this size too). I tell my kids I can take them out more often out for ice cream by ordering baby scoops-even if they are not babies!

Rule #3 Salty snacks with lunch not before:

I vividly remember at the lake last summer watching this boy (probably about 5 years old) walking up and down the lakefront with one of those huge bag of potato chips in his hand, diving in and eating most of the bag at 11:00 in the morning. This was his lunch, I guess? How can a young child eat so much salty snacks and then sit down to enjoy his lunch? My guess is that he didn’t. So one of my rules is to use the salty snacks with lunch, as a side or complement to the sandwich/meal. I am the first one to like Doritos and salty snacks at the beach or lake (it seems to go together), but these snacks belong with food, not as a substitute for a meal (and if your 5-year-old can eat a half a huge bag of chips and then eat his sandwich an hour later, that’s just too much food.)

Rule #4 Sitting down while eating:

This is a simple rule and one of the most important because it doesn’t stop the fun. “Kids please SIT DOWN when eating.” Voila. At a table preferably or a bench, or on a blanket. But just sit. They need constant reminders, but once they remember, they sit.

Rule #5 Restaurant Dining:

Three big rules here with kids: 1. ask the server to bring bread with the dinner and don’t leave it out for kids to overdose before they eat their meal, 2. ask the server to bring the kid’s special fun drinks with their meals (same as number 1), and 3. when possible, order something besides the typical unhealthy kids meals choices like chicken nuggets and fries.

Rule #6 Not a member of the ‘clean your plate club’:

Summer is hot and thus kids are normally less hungry (unless they are very physically active: see next rule). So, we serve smaller portions, encourage seconds, serve lighter foods and more fruits but do not force your kids to eat all the food on their plates. If your kids are trying a new food, put a small amount on the plate and encourage them to taste it. By giving smaller portions and allowing seconds and thirds, your children shouldn’t be forced to finish their plate.

Rule #7 Match moving with calories:

There are times to be even more relaxed on eating and that is on those days when your kids are moving non-stop! As an example, my 12-year-old son spends hours in the ocean swimming on his boogie board. He comes out and needs calories! If your kids are doing sport or are particularly physically active, they need calories and lots of them. This is the time to be sure you have packed enough sandwiches and healthy snacks like dried and fresh fruit, granola bars and nuts. Likewise, if your kids aren’t moving a lot, they need less calories and more sticking with the rules.

Rule #8 Healthy snacks on hand:

Which brings me to the last rule. Kids will eat healthy snacks if they are readily available. Some of the healthiest options are: fresh fruit. Have a fruit bowl ready filled daily and encourage your kids to choose from this bowl first before heading to the pantry for other less healthy snacks. If your kids are at age where they are home alone all day, be sure that rules stay clear on what there is for lunch, drinks, snacks and have these foods available for them.

Setting expectations and limits for your child’s eating is good parenting, just like restricting the types of TV shows and video games they watch. The healthier means better in the long run.

What type of summer eating rules do you impose on your children? Are you more relaxed on what your kids eat in the summer? Share your stories in the comments below. Add a rule that you think is missing and maybe I will add it to this list!

As always, I wish you all a healthy and happy summer filled with good memories (especially around food!). If you like this article and feel it could interest someone, I would greatly appreciate if you would share it. If you enjoy reading about Italian and European food and culture, there is more to come. You can subscribe to BrightonYourHealth newsletter here to get updates on articles. By subscribing, you can download your free E-report on international good health tips. Click below to get started.

Warmly, Mary

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