Kid and Parent-Friendly Summer Meals
By Jami Badershall, Communication Manager, Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council

Parents and families in Maine are extremely fortunate that in our state, school meals – both breakfast and lunch – are free for all. It not only helps us to save money, but it also takes a great deal of responsibility off our shoulders by providing our children with two nutritious meals a day, Monday through Friday. And while the Maine Department of Education administers hundreds of feeding sites across the state during the summer months, you will surely find yourself making many more meals for your children once school is out. But it does not need to add a huge amount of stress and time to your already busy day or strain to your grocery budget.

First of all, cereal. There is no reason for guilt or feeling like you’re not doing enough if your child is starting their day with a simple bowl of cereal. According to an article by Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., research shows that people who consume ready-to-eat cereal “take in higher amounts of under consumed nutrients (specifically calcium, vitamin D, fiber, and potassium) compared to those who eat other breakfast foods …” and are more likely to meet nutrient recommendations. Look for whole grains, and less sugar (but don’t worry about a little sweetness if it ensures your kids will actually eat it), and cereals are often fortified with other nutrients. Then you add to that a serving of cow’s milk with its 13 essential nutrients, and top with fruit for even more balance. Cereal doesn’t have to be just for breakfast. Dry cereal can be a healthier option than something like potato chips when your kids are looking for a crunchy snack. And on hot, summer days, a bowl of cereal with ice cold milk can make for a light, refreshing lunch or supper.
Of course, there are always overnight oats. You can make it last thing before you go to bed, it’s ready the next morning in a handy-dandy Mason jar for serving, and you can add any number of nutritious ingredients. The base is milk, yogurt and oats, and then you add your choice of fruit, nuts, chia seeds, peanut butter, etc. A great summery recipe is Peaches and Cream Overnight Oats – 1⁄4 cup rolled oats, ½ cup vanilla yogurt (or plain yogurt with a dollop of honey or maple syrup and a ½ tsp of vanilla), 1 ounce of milk, and ½ cup peaches with extra light syrup, diced or top with fresh peaches in the morning. I also like a dash of cinnamon. You combine the rolled oats, yogurt and milk until blended, stir in your fruit and any spices (or save to top in the morning), place it all into a 10 oz. container or cup, place a lid on top and chill overnight. If your kids don’t like the overnight oats, those same ingredients can be thrown into a blender and make an excellent smoothie.
For quick, easy, kid-friendly lunch ideas, keep whole wheat wraps on hand. Peanut butter slathered on a wrap and topped with fresh, sliced strawberries and then rolled up is a twist on the classic PBJ. You can also use those wraps for quesadillas. When I have left over chicken, I will top one wrap with diced chicken, cheese and maybe some fresh spinach, and then place the second wrap on top of that. You can cook it up on the stove top in a frying pan or bake it for just a few minutes in the oven or toaster oven (if I am doing the latter, I will usually just put the toppings on one side of the wrap and then fold it over so it looks like a calzone).
Finally, when it’s too hot to cook, or your kids are in the mood for a picnic-style meal, a charcuterie board is a great option. Fill your board with carrot sticks, sliced peppers, cucumbers or pickles, hummus or a yogurt-based dip, your favorite cheeses (even cheese sticks are acceptable on a cheese board), whatever berry is in season, nuts or crackers, some sliced turkey or salmon is a favorite in our house, and whatever else your kids like to graze on.
What kid is going to turn down cookies for breakfast? Oakhurst Dairy offers up this recipe with some variations. They can also be an easy-to-pack, nutrient-loaded, not too sweet snack.