Making Summer Meals Fun

By Erin Hoisington, RDN, LD, MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center

Long summer days, bright sunshine and afternoons by the pool are finally here! With kids on summer break, feeding everyone can feel like a challenge. The good news is that summer can be the perfect time to enjoy fresh, locally grown ingredients, and the best news is you don’t have to do it alone. Keep everyone busy and bought-in by enlisting the whole family to help plan and prepare summertime meals.

Did you know that Iowa leads the nation in the production of corn, soybeans, pork and eggs? Yet, many Iowans know very little about where their food comes from and how it’s raised. Doing a little research into the origins of foods is a great way to engage young minds and help the whole family learn more about everyone’s favorite subject — food.

Involve the Kiddos

In addition to helping kids understand how their favorite foods get to grocery store shelves, find fun ways to get them involved. When kids participate in planning and preparing meals, they are more likely to try new foods. Try these tips:

  1. Let each child take turns and pick a food item or entire menu for one day per week. The more they feel they have a say in what is served, the more likely they will be to gobble it up.

  2.  When it is time to make the grocery list for the week, ask older children to read recipe ingredients to you to add to the list. In the kitchen, don’t forget that everyone can play a part.

  3. Young children can help with various tasks such as pouring, dumping and stirring ingredients together.

  4. Involve older children by asking them to read recipes, measure and even chop ingredients under adult supervision. Regardless of their task, involving each member can keep everyone busy and make less work of you.

Have Fun with Menu Themes

Theming lunch menus can be a fun way to mix it up while incorporating local ingredients. Think about all the great foods produced in Iowa and use them to plan meals. Ensure nutritional balance by starting with a lean protein source such as Iowa raised beef, pork, poultry or eggs.

Then, fill half of the plate with fruits and vegetables. Summer is a great time to buy from a farmers’ market or even grow your own for the freshest taste possible. Don’t forget to add whole grains and healthy dairy throughout the day to ensure everyone is getting all they need to be healthy and active all summer. Depending on your schedule, ingredients can be prepared in advance or the day of. Just pick a theme, and roll with it.

For a big hit with all members of the family, tacos are the ticket. Enjoy Taco Tuesday with 93 percent lean ground beef or shredded chicken enhanced with your favorite taco seasoning. Then set out containers with various ingredients such as shredded lettuce, salsa (fresh or store bought), shredded cheese, plain Greek yogurt or reduced fat sour cream and crushed tortilla chips for a do-it-yourself taco bowl bar.

Perhaps an Asian twist is what your lunch routine needs. In a large pan, add 1 teaspoon corn or vegetable oil and heat on medium. Dump a bag of shredded coleslaw mix and 1 tablespoon soy sauce into the pan and stir, cooking until cabbage mix has softened, approximately 3-4 minutes. Mix in 1 cup shredded pork loin, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 1 cup cooked edamame. Serve over brown rice for a high-fiber, protein-packed satisfying lunch.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your lunch theme. What about “Foods that come in their own package?” Combine hard boiled eggs, fresh mandarin oranges and local sweet corn for an easy, nutritious and fun meal. You can also keep things simple with a traditional turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, farm-fresh tomatoes, ripe watermelon and a cold glass of skim milk. Finding what works for your family is part of the fun.

No matter what you choose, if you involve the entire family, you can’t go wrong. Summer is the perfect time to get in touch with all the great food our state has to offer. Create your own “farm-to-table” experience and soak up summer while it lasts.