Do you ever find that summer menus for the children look like sandwiches, sandwiches and more sandwiches? While during term time I'd quite happily make myself a raw carrot salad and open a tin of sardines for a quick lunch for myself, the need to feed many mouths means I end up sinking to the lowest common denominator, something we all like, that is quick and flexible to everyone's tastes - sandwiches.
However, sandwiches every day is definitely not my idea of a healthy balanced diet! The guilt kicks in, but the inspiration is still nowhere to be found. After all, this is my holiday too and I'd rather not spend my summer in the kitchen.
So I reached out to nutrition experts, Thalia Pellegrini and Zoe Kirby, to get their advice!
DZ: Hi Zoe and Thalia, I'm sure you don't feed your kids sandwiches all summer! How do you juggle feeding the family and trying to get some holiday relaxation time too? What are your top tips for us?
Yes it really does feel like the summer camp café here, especially as we’re not going abroad this summer! I totally agree, I want to feed the kids well, but don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen, so for me it’s all about planning our meals and making it easy, then I can feel like I’m on holiday too (sort of!). Here are my top tips for an easier family summer:
Meal planning – take some time on a Sunday to plan out your meals for the week – breakfast, lunches, dinners and snacks too, and it will save you hours of thinking and faffing time during the week. It’s great to get the kids involved with this too - if they feel they have some input they’re more likely to eat what you serve up. Planning also helps build variety into your family diet, which is key for our gut health, as you can plan in different fruits and vegetables each day.
Love your leftovers – when you’re cooking dinner, always make at least double, then there’s plenty of choice for lunches and dinners later in the week, or pop the rest in the freezer for another day. I see this as looking after my future self, as it saves so much time and mental energy further down the line. Great leftovers include cold cooked chicken/salmon, which you can add to a quick and easy salad or pasta dish; cooked potatoes to eat cold or fry with eggs for a speedy lunch; roast vegetables to eat with salad, or make into soup if the weather turns chilly. Being more intentional with your leftovers and building them into your meal plan is great for reducing food waste too.
Make the healthy choices the easy choices – if your kids are anything like mine, the demands for snacks are pretty endless, and you can end up reaching for something out of a packet, because it’s the easy option. So it’s worth spending some time planning and preparing some healthier snacks, like cut up fruit or veg sticks in the fridge, so that becomes the easy option instead. Try to think of snacks as a mini meal, containing some fruit or veg and a protein like houmous, nuts, seeds, nut butter, cheese or cold chicken, and not just sugary beige carbs, which seem to have become the norm. Some of our faves are houmous with veg sticks, apple slices with nut butter, dried apricots and almonds, oat cakes with cream cheese and cucumber or some home-made flapjacks with added pumpkin seeds (we love Lucinda Miller’s recipe from The Good Stuff cookbook).
Platters - easy to assemble and kids often like 'picky' lunches - so that might be a big plate with some sliced turkey, cubes of cheese, some chopped carrots, cherry tomatoes and sliced red peppers with some dips like hummus and guacamole. The more colourful, the more appealing it will be. Do another plate with fresh fruit like watermelon and pineapple. That lunch ticks all the boxes - some carbohydrate, protein, healthy fats, fruit and vegetables.
Eggs - my go-to in a hurry. Scrambled eggs are the easiest option, but my kids love omelettes, they only take about 5 minutes and there are so many options to go inside. Mushrooms are great - fry some up in a little butter with some chives until soft, remove from the pan, then add your beaten eggs to the pan until set. Add your filling and fold the other half over the top. Other filling options: cheese and tomato, bacon and spinach, smoked salmon.
Packets of microwavable rice - these are always in my cupboard. Add some frozen peas and whisk up a couple of eggs for an egg-fried rice.
Buy a good quality fresh soup and add some protein - a tin of butter beans or cannellini beans make a filling lunch with some oatcakes on the side.
DZ: The great thing about sandwiches is that you have a baseline that is both consistent and flexible. What are your go-to easy recipes that we can use as a base and adapt / jazz up over the summer (that the kids will enjoy too)?
Jacket potatoes - especially on a typical UK summer's day (i.e. not that warm!). I often put them in the oven when I'm in the kitchen first thing in the morning. Set an alarm so you don't forget they're there! They can then be finished or reheated later. Toppings can be tuna mayo, baked beans, or just grated cheese. Again, offer some veg on the side - cucumber and sugar snaps work well and I'll often have a bowl of berries on the table for them to have alongside.
Home-made pizzas. Buy wholewheat bases, grated cheese (lots of dairy-free options available now, too) and - my cheat - a pot of a fresh tomato pasta sauce, ideally with extra veg inside! Get the kids to make their own. Offer some sliced mushrooms and peppers and I also like the Brindisa nitrate-free chorizo slices.
Pitta pockets - buy wholewheat pittas, toast them lightly and add your filling: smoked salmon and cream cheese, hummus with grated carrot and red pepper, grated cheese and cucumber, cold roast chicken and lettuce.
Wraps - mini ones are great for little hands. They take a minute to 'cook' in a dry frying pan and are easy to fill. How about ham and tomato or just guacamole as options.
I’ve actually stopped buying supermarket sliced bread as it’s so full of additives and preservatives, and is classed as an ‘ultra-processed food’. So instead we either buy some sourdough from our local bakery or make our own loaf in a bread machine, which takes 5 minutes and you know exactly what’s in it. There’s nothing wrong with having bread as part of a balanced diet, but it’s important to remember that not all bread is created equal! Here are some of our summer lunch time faves:
Mackerel pâté – this is really versatile and a super easy way to get protein and healthy fats into your lunch. Break up some smoked mackerel filets in a bowl, add in some crème fraiche or cottage cheese, lemon juice, parsley and horseradish. Mix well with a fork, or in a food processer for smoother consistency. You can have this as a dip with raw veggie sticks, little gem lettuce leaves and oatcakes; on sourdough toast with mashed avocado; or in a pitta with salad. It freezes really well too, if you have any left over.
Pesto eggs – these have become a new family favourite, just warm some pesto in a frying pan and fry your eggs in it instead of using oil or butter. Then you can have them with avocado and grated cheese on sourdough toast, or on top of some leftover new potatoes with salad.
Veggie omelette/frittata – this is a great way of using up leftover cooked veg or potatoes, or clearing out the veg drawer - just chop up the veg and heat in a pan, beat some eggs in bowl and pour over, cook until set and add some grated cheese at the end. Peppers, onions, courgettes, peas and potatoes work really well for this, and it’s a great way of serving vegetables to kids in a different way.
Thank you to these inspiring mums and nutritionists for sharing their tips with us!
Here is where you can find them:
I hope you enjoy giving these a try, I’d love to hear how you get on - you can find me on Instagram @zoekirbynutrition, where I have posted some of these as recipe videos, or sign up for my mailing list at www.zoekirby.com.
Hello! I'm Thalia, I'm a registered nutritional therapist aka the knackered mums nutritionist. I work with mums to help them feel nourished and energised.
What helped me most with my mental health was recognising that it was OK to say I was struggling when my sons were tiny and understanding that I needed to nourish myself, as well as them.
The better I looked after myself, the less overwhelmed I felt. You can find me on @thaliapellegrini_nutrition
Dot Zacharias is COO of the Nourish app, mum of 2 (with no.3 due in December!) Sleep Coach and Yoga Nidra teacher.