One of my favourite things about having kids is being able to visit new places and experience new things with them. Whether it’s parks, farms, museums or even the dreaded soft play, I love seeing L – and increasingly ‘Beetle’ – get enjoyment out of a family day out. Something I don’t love though is the food and snacking options at these places – particularly when it comes to the kids.
Obviously there are exceptions, but, generally speaking, it feels like no thought is given to providing children with healthy, nutritionally balanced food options. Sure, kid’s menus are now widespread, however the reality is that these often provide an underwhelming choice of bulk-purchased, frozen, beige options which allow the establishment to claim they are ‘family-friendly’.
It’s the same with snacks. If your kid needs something to eat in between meals, it’s a pretty impossible task to choose the best or healthiest snacking options for them when all that’s on offer is chocolate, crisps and cake. This is something I see time and time again, regardless of the place we’ve visited. The below is the selection from a recent soft play we visited – plenty of variety, but 95% is junk.
In moderation, I have no issue with L – and ‘Beetle’ in the near future – eating stuff like this. L happily eats fish fingers, chicken nuggets, pizza, crisps, chocolate, cake, cookies and other stuff regarded as ‘bad’. However, this is the exception rather than the norm and it’s done as part of a balanced diet which also features plenty of fruit and vegetables.
I guess that’s the problem when visiting places for a family day out. The balanced or healthy options rarely exist and you have no alternative but to choose between the hot dog or the burger. The choice just isn’t there and I personally don’t think it’s good enough. I recently highlighted this point after visiting Disneyland Paris because it surprised me just how crap the food options were.
It’s not difficult to rectify it though. It may cost a bit more and take more effort, but my view is that all family-friendly or child-friendly places that serve food should offer healthier options. We have two soft play cafes near us who have differentiated themselves by providing healthy choices for kids (meals and snacks) and it makes me want to choose them over the ‘cheap and cheerful’ establishments.
Interestingly, Organix recently carried out some research into the worst places for unhealthy snacks when out and about. I’d like to pretend I was surprised, but there findings were in line with my experiences (apart from leisure centres as we don’t often go to them):
With all of this in mind, where possible, we try to do a few things to make eating out that bit healthier – and, as a result, cheaper. Don’t get me wrong, we still love our chocolate brownie with our mocha as much as the next person, but we know it’s not feasible each and every time we pass as coffee shop. So, here are four ways we try to ensure healthy family snacking when out and about:
1) Always Have A Snack With You
As all good Scouts know, you should always be prepared – this is particularly true when you’re a parent to a hangry preschooler. Over time, I’ve learnt to always have a few snacks with us just in case. That way, you’re never caught short when the hunger pains strike and snacking is required.
In reality, this means we have a couple of snacks in the car and a few burred in the bottom of our day bag. If L needs a snack, for instance, after swimming, we have one there ready to go. This is great because we don’t have to actively take snacks with us – we can just dip into the reserves. The only ‘problem’ is ensuring you top it back up once your kid has taken one out!
Not only this, but as we’re selecting the snacks, we can ensure that they’re things we want her to eat – we’re not at the mercy of the vending machine or the petrol station selling limited options. Obviously stuff like fresh fruit would be pretty grim after a few days in the car, so our preference is something sealed and portioned already, like Organix crispy bars, soft oaty bars or corn puffs.
2) Take A Packed Lunch
Something we’re doing more and more is taking food with us on days out. I always remember having picnics with my folks as a kid and taking the piss that we never used to buy food, yet now, somewhat ironically, I appear to have become them.
It just makes sense. Sure, it takes a bit of prep, but it’s cheaper, means you can take what you want and eat it whenever and wherever – L’s current favourite is the ‘car picnic’ because she gets to sit in the front, although sunny summer weather gives plenty of opportunity to go al fresco.
A picnic doesn’t have to be complicated. I admire all of those amazing food art creations in bento boxes, but that’s just not for me. Instead, we tend to make a few sarnies, chop up some fruit / vegetables and stick in some snacks. If we’re feeling particularly frivolous, you may even spot some hummus or picnic eggs.
As another option, taking leftovers from previous meals works really well and, quite bizarrely, often tastes nicer – for instance, on our day out to the zoo earlier in the week, I had fajita leftovers consisting of sausage, rice and vegetables. Either way, it’s likely to be so much cheaper and healthier than buying when you’re at the attraction.
3) Head To A Supermarket
Considering that we do our food shop online, we still seem to spend a fair bit of time in supermarkets. This is usually because we’ll pop into a supermarket when we’re out to grab lunch if (a) we’re not planning on eating at the place we’re visiting, or (b) we’ve not bothered / forgotten to bring lunch with us.
We’ve always found this to be a good option. For instance, it’s often cheaper than buying food at the destination – you’d struggle to get a sandwich, smoothie and fruit bag for the cost of a £3 Meal Deal.
Secondly, it offers a greater choice of (healthier) food – you can either go with pre-prepared food or buy the ingredients and put it together yourself. And, thirdly, you’re never far away from a supermarket so have the convenience of knowing that you’ll always stumble across one.
Plus, most big Tesco stores have the ‘free fruit for kids’ initiative meaning your little one can have one of their five a day whilst in store. A great initiative and the main reason why L likes going to the supermarket!
4) Swap Unhealthy Snacks For Healthy Snacks
Where possible, we try to swap unhealthy snacks for healthy snacks with L’s input. We’re not militant about it and recognise that there’s a time for a ‘sweet treat’. However, with a kid, it’s a slippery slope and ‘sweet treat’ can often become the norm thanks to pester power – particularly when out and about.
I think the kid’s meal box ‘5 items for a fiver’ type thing illustrate this perfectly. Many places now offer these, and assuming that there are more than five items available, it allows you and your kid to pick the lunch that they want and swap unhealthy for healthy.
L will often have a sandwich (jam, cheese or ham) and some crisp-related product, then we’ll choose some of the healthier options – milk instead of juice, a yoghurt over a jelly pot and fruit instead of chocolate. I guess we’re lucky that she loves things like raisins, grapes and satsumas as it allows the swap to be a painless experience all around!
Organix has kindly put together the below graphic which shows a few suggested junk snack food swaps:
So those are four things we try to do to ensure healthier snacking and eating when we’re out and about. What is your experience when eating out? Are you happy with the food options available for kids? If not, how do you try to ensure health(ier) snacking? Let me know below!
Disclosure: This is a commissioned post in collaboration with Organix as part of the #NoJunkJourney.