If you’re spending this summer with small children, chances are you’ve already heard that phrase about ninety million times. When I’m at home, I usually respond with something helpful, like: “If you’ll get off the couch, walk down the hallway, and turn left, you’ll find a big, magical box we like to call the refrigerator. It’s full of healthy snacks!”
But, when you’re on a summertime adventure with your kids, those cries of “I’m hungry!” are a bit harder to address. If you’re planning on exploring some of our beautiful lakes or trails with your children this summer, here are some ideas for healthy snacks you can pack along to stave off both hunger and whining.
An important note before I dive into the snack and meal ideas: Plastic bags and boats don’t mix. The combination of wind, waves, and little hands means plastic bags and wrappers can all too often end up overboard, where they pose a threat to fish and birds.
Try packing your boating snacks in reusable hard plastic or glass containers, which won’t get caught in the wind and may even float. Hikers are a bit less likely to lose their plastic bags, but many snacks still benefit from the protection of a hard-sided container. Plan ahead to make sure your packaging doesn’t end up in the ecosystem!
An old hiking standby, the snack food gorp is still well-loved by children and adults alike. Although it was apparently once an acronym for “Good Old-fashioned Raisins and Peanuts,” our family makes our own gorp out of whatever we have lying around. This typically ends up being a mixture of raisins or other dried fruits, nuts, either salted snack nuts or the walnuts and pecans we use in baking, and some form of chocolate, like chocolate chips. Yes, our kitchen is never without chocolate. While we usually pass around a large container of gorp for the whole family, you could minimize fights over, say, the last green M&M by packing individual containers.
Granola is another healthy, delicious snack which is easy to eat with your hands. Granola is readily available in pretty much every supermarket in the great state of Maine. It’s also fairly easy to make yourself, as long as you can keep from getting distracted during the last ten minutes of cooking, when granola goes from “perfectly done” to “singed” faster than a three-year-old can scream, “Mommy, I have to go potty!”
Popcorn is a quick, crowd-pleasing snack which can easily scale up or down, depending on how many boaters or hikers you’re feeding. While you can easily buy popcorn in a bag, popping your own on the stovetop is very simple - just make sure to cover the top of the pan with a colander or tin foil. Popcorn really does fly everywhere, creating great fun for kids and a huge clean-up for parents. If you’re aiming for healthy popcorn, heat your corn kernels in a bit of olive oil and top with either nothing or just a dash of salt.
If, however, you want popcorn to impress your friends and frighten your enemies, try popping your kernels in a mixture of butter, olive oil, and a small spoonful of leftover bacon drippings. Top them with salt, and you might just end up eating them all in the car on your way to the lake.
Another delicious and quick-to-prepare snack would be apple slices tossed with cinnamon. There are some days in the summer when my children survive on apple slices and cinnamon, which also make a perfect snack to pop in a lunch for work or school. The preparation is about as simple as it gets: slice up an apple, put it in a container, sprinkle with cinnamon, attach the lid, and shake. The cinnamon keeps the apple slices from browning and makes the snack taste almost like dessert.
If you’re planning an all-day boat trip, hike, or picnic, you may need something a bit more substantial than just snacks. Pasta salad makes for a nice picnic meal and, much like gorp, pasta salad is a meal that can be made from almost anything in your kitchen. When the pasta is about a minute from finishing, add a cup or two of frozen peas. Then rinse the pasta and peas with cold water, place in your hard-sided plastic or glass container and add a bunch of leftovers: chunks of cheese, little slices of ham or chicken, green or black olives, the lone piece of broccoli no one ate at last night’s dinner. Dress with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. A loaf of French bread makes a nice addition to this picnic meal (and white wine for the adults).
Finally, when all else fails, try putting food on a stick. You can make endless variations of fruit, cheese, and lunchmeat on toothpicks. Cherry tomatoes, salami, and bits of string cheese lined up on toothpicks make for fabulous boating or hiking lunches. And why should prosciutto and honeydew melon on a toothpick be reserved for brunches or wedding receptions? Why not take that elegant snack on a boat trip in Vacationland?
Whatever foods you choose for your kid-friendly outdoor adventure, keep in mind that the best boating or hiking foods are easy to eat, easy to clean up, and fun! Don’t be afraid to try something new and turn those cries of “I’m hungry!” into “Wow, can we try this again?”